Chamber music on a Sunday afternoon sounds charming and with the musicians of La Musica International Chamber Music Festival the odds are good it shall be so.
Michael Haydn, the younger brother of the famed Franz Josef, was a skilled composer whose music was enjoyed by many during his lifetime. Although lacking the sophistication of his brother’s music, Michael’s Divertimento in C major for violins, cello and double bass, was a well-ordered chamber morsel, no doubt meant to be “house party” music of the day.
Federico Agostini, violin; Julie Albers, cello, carried the melodic lines over a bass foundation outlined by Dee Moses, double bass. None of the four movements required heavy lifting, but rather there was a soothing simplicity made all the more pleasurable by the delicate placement and phrasing. There was nothing to jolt the audience, even when the bass was called upon for a little excitement which provided a light-hearted sense of propulsion to the finale.
The peak of the program was Gabriel Faure’s setting of nine poems by Paul Verlaine in the song cycle, La Bon Chanson. And trés bon it was! The soprano Dina Kuznetsova delivered each line of Verlaine poetic imagery within a suitably lush forest of piano and five strings – the Haydn trio musicians with Eri Noda, violin, Daniel Avshalomov, viola, and James Winn, piano.
Although this cycle was originally composed for piano and voice alone, one can imagine the strings lend a softer cushion for the fragrant love-induced harmonies at which Faure seemed to excel. In the end, however, the fate of this music rests with the soprano and piano, both whom seemed perfectly at home with Faure’s music. As lovely as the music and poetry were, the performance lacked emotional range and variation. Whether the fault lies with the composer or musician, sometimes too much of a good thing can lull one into a haze.
That viewpoint is right on target when addressing Anton Bruckner’s String Quintet in F major. Known more for his symphonies, his only chamber work for strings from his mature years was this quintet. However, Bruckner was as gangly and long winded in the quintet as he was with his large scale works. Yet, based on this performance, the symphonic talent did not translate so well into his chamber music.
The musicians Agostini, Noda and Avshalamov, joined by Bruno Giuranna, viola, and Eric Kim, cello, tackled what must have been a challenging score. They seemed to struggle with it as well as with each other at various moments, encountering ensemble and intonation issues. There were also moments of clarity and melodic beauty. One could hear touches of Vienna, a sacred chorale and some lovely solo lines for viola that sang out thanks to the Avshalamov touch. In short, I doubt any ensemble could compensate for Bruckner’s shortcomings with the demands of chamber music.