High strings, not high-strung
Five months from now, Music From Angel Fire will be in the midst of its three-week season, its performers making the rounds of Taos, Raton, Las Vegas, and Eagle Nest in addition to appearing at home at the Angel Fire Community Center. On Sunday afternoon, April 3, in a ballroom at Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa, three of the festival’s musicians dropped in for an interim visit to Santa Fe, offering chamber works for two violins and viola in all possible combinations.
Violinist Ida Kavafian and violist Steven Tenenbom are well known in musical circles. She is the artistic director of Music From Angel Fire and, as a violinist, an artist member of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; he is the violist of the Orion String Quartet; and they are both members of the Opus One piano quartet and faculty members at the Curtis Institute and Bard College. They are also married to each other, so it was no surprise that they brought to this enjoyably civilized, generally relaxed afternoon a high level of what is necessary for excellence in chamber music — well-honed musical chops and the ability to play well with others. The two dispatched Mozart’s Duo in B-flat Major forthrightly, not burying the delicate texture beneath a weight of “interpretation,” eschewing even a wink when, in the development section of the opening movement, Mozart lets loose a brilliant bout of neo-Baroque canon.
Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins followed, with Tenenbom retiring and Benjamin Beilman taking his place alongside Kavafian, who is his teacher at Curtis. She observed that her student, who is 21 years old, has had a good year, which is certainly the case; in 2010 he was awarded first prize at the Montréal International Musical Competition and the bronze medal (plus special awards for Bach and Mozart interpretation) at the very prestigious International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, and he was given a spot on the roster of Young Concert Artists, which has launched the careers of many leading soloists. The Prokofiev duo-sonata demonstrates a violinist’s abilities rather in the way that tracing compulsory figures reveals the skill of an ice skater. It’s a severe work: its four movements focus more on linear phrasing and the balance of counterpoint than on virtuosic, violinistic effects crafted to astonish; the composer called it an example of his “lenten vertical style.” As such, it’s a good test piece for an emerging