IF ARCANA WAS YOUR TASSE DE CAFÉ then you heard members of Ensemble Monterey on the weekend play several regional premieres. Not that these were new pieces—all date from the 20th century—just obscure ones. If any of the six works could claim any familiarity at all it would have been the concert bookends: Debussy’s 20-minute Sonata for Flute, Viola & Harp to begin and the Suite from The Gadfly by Shostakovich to finish. The former, dating from World War I, was tastily played by, respectively, Lars Johannesson, Susan Brown and Jennifer Cass. The latter, arranged from a film score, surrounded pianist Lucy Faridany with a quintet of strings: violinists David Dally (pictured) and Shannon Delaney D’Antonio, violist Brown, cellist Margie Dally and bassist Kelly Beecher. (Its fourth movement, Romance, gained independent familiarity by having been used as the musical theme in the popular British TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies.)
The program, titled Three’s Company, heard on Saturday at the acoustically lively St. Philip’s Church in Carmel Valley as the crescent new moon sank in the chilly Western night sky, was, save the last piece, dedicated exclusively to ensembles of three.
Brown stayed on for the five-movement, 15-minute Suite by Randall Thompson, now joined by oboist Peter Lemberg and clarinetist Erica Horn. Thompson is better known as a major American choral composer and this work, clearly influenced by American folk music, was a refreshing surprise. It was followed by Serenade No. 2 by Bohuslav Martinů, the Moravian-born, prolific internationalist whose styles range all over the map. (Martinů, it is now conjectured, was autistic; while at Tanglewood he was so lost in musical thought that he walked off a second floor passageway and almost died from injuries sustained in a hard fall onto concrete.) In three short movements, this piece manages to concentrate its composer’s eclectic taste, from pop music to neo-classicism à la Stravinsky.
Three student musicians from Youth Music Monterey, coached by Horn and sounding fully professional, played the opening movement of Max Reger’s Serenade Op. 141-A. They were flutist Olive De Luca, violinist Lance Yang Bauer and violist Helen Liuyi Yang.
Lambert, Johannesson and Brown then surveyed Terzetto by Gustav Holst, a composer who, like JS Bach, had one eye on the past and the other on the future. In this piece Holst concocted a unique idea for the 1920s: write each part in a different key. It took almost no accidentals for the whole to remain coherent while distinctly polyphonic.
Then came the Shostakovich, with its strutting Overture, melancholy Folk Festival, cute Barrel Organ Waltz, racy Galop, and the celebrated Romance whose big solo was played to haunting effect by concertmaster Dally.