Santa Fe Pro Musica’s open­ing week­end

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Santa Fe Pro Musica Open­ing Week­end

Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter, Sept. 18 & 20

Santa Fe Pro Musica launched its sea­son last week by spot­light­ing the mem­bers of the pi­ano quar­tet Opus One as a self-stand­ing cham­ber ensem­ble (on Sept. 18) and as con­certo soloists (on Sept. 19 and 20). Beethoven’s Pi­ano Quar­tet in E-flat ma­jor, WoO 36 (WoO mean­ing “Werke ohne Opuszahl,” or “Work with­out opus num­ber”), which stood at the top of the printed pro­gram, is a rarely en­coun­tered cu­rios­ity, one of three pi­ano quar­tets the bud­ding com­poser pro­duced at the age of four­teen. But here an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of WoO 36 was foiled by the fact that Opus One did not play it. The group played a dif­fer­ent Beethoven Pi­ano Quar­tet in E-flat ma­jor, his Op. 16, us­ing the al­ter­na­tive in­stru­men­ta­tion the com­poser sanc­tioned for the piece much more com­monly heard in its pre­ferred ver­sion as his Quin­tet for Pi­ano and Winds. One can easily imag­ine the mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion that led to the mix-up in the ad­vance pub­lic­ity and the printed pro­gram; and it seems prob­a­ble that the mu­si­cians hadn’t glanced at the printed pro­gram be­fore­hand and there­fore didn’t re­al­ize that a cor­rec­tion needed to be an­nounced. No harm was done, but it falls to us to as­sure au­di­ence mem­bers that the piece they heard was the work of a com­poser who was twenty-five rather than four­teen.

Opus One’s in­ter­pre­ta­tions hewed to a lofty stan­dard through­out. The play­ers in­vested the Beethoven Quar­tet with sub­tle de­tail, par­tic­u­larly telling in the un­err­ingly co­or­di­nated tran­si­tions from sec­tion to sec­tion. They pro­ceeded on to Low­ell Lieber­mann’s Pi­ano Quar­tet, a work al­ready dis­cussed at length in these col­umns in re­views of its 2010 pre­miere at Mu­sic From An­gel Fire and its 2011 in­clu­sion at Santa Fe Cham­ber Mu­sic Fes­ti­val. Last week’s per­for­mance again con­firmed my en­thu­si­asm for its Shostakovichian con­tours, which move from lonely del­i­cacy at the open­ing — sparkling snow might be an ac­cu­rate im­age — to es­ca­lat­ing panic (the com­poser’s rage over BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill in­formed the piece as he was writ­ing it) and back again. It seems set to be­come a clas­sic.

To close, Opus One gave a mas­terly read­ing of Brahms’ C-mi­nor Pi­ano Quar­tet, very dra­matic in the first and fourth move­ments (with Anne-Marie McDer­mott’s pi­anism surg­ing pow­er­fully in the fi­nale with­out ever oblit­er­at­ing the strings), fe­ro­cious and im­mac­u­lately ar­tic­u­lated in the Scherzo. The An­dante can verge on the maudlin, but here it moved along at a flow­ing pace, with Peter Wiley’s cello, Steven Te­nen­bom’s vi­ola, and Ida Kavafian’s vi­o­lin pro­vid­ing plenty of love­li­ness with­out al­low­ing en­try to the ba­thetic. By the way, this is among the pieces the com­poser/“mu­si­cal an­i­ma­tor” Stephen Mali­nowski has en­livened with a re­spect­ful vis­ual ac­com­pa­ni­ment. He gained his widest au­di­ence through com­puter vi­su­al­iza­tions for the pop star Björk, but clas­si­cal-mu­sic lovers would also find his graphic trans­la­tions en­light­en­ing. You can find his vis­ual ac­com­pa­ni­ments to all four of this work’s move­ments on YouTube, but I’d start with the An­dante move­ment, which re­ally is one of the sa­cred achieve­ments of cham­ber mu­sic. (Visit watch?v=hrE7NS2zxkg.) If the def­i­ni­tion of “coun­ter­point” as “the in­ter­ac­tion of mu­si­cal lines” has al­ways left you un­steady, this video will be just the trick.

Thomas O’Con­nor con­ducted the Santa Fe Pro Musica Or­ches­tra adeptly in the sym­phonic con­certs, be­gin­ning with a solid read­ing of Men­delssohn’s

Ital­ian Sym­phony. From the per­spec­tive of my seat, up­per lines had trou­ble es­cap­ing from the stage. The tex­ture ac­cord­ingly seemed more in­tense than fleet­footed, but this had the ad­van­tage of high­light­ing un­usu­ally well-ex­e­cuted de­tails of phras­ing from the horns and bas­soons work­ing in tan­dem in the Trio of the third move­ment.

Opus One then took to the stage for Short Or­der ,a work the late Dou­glas Lowry (dean at the East­man School of Mu­sic) wrote to pro­vide the four­some with some­thing that would fea­ture them with an or­ches­tra. The quar­tet’s play­ers are in the spotlight al­most through­out the nine-minute piece, a fair amount of which ex­plores the sep­a­ra­tion of pi­ano and strings. McDer­mott’s dra­matic in­ci­sive­ness in the pi­anofor­ward por­tions made one re­gret that she dropped the planned Prokofiev sonata from her recital at St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium a month ear­lier. (More ku­dos to her, by the way: She has just been named to the jury for the next Van Cliburn In­ter­na­tional Pi­ano Com­pe­ti­tion, in 2017.)

The pièce de ré­sis­tance was Beethoven’s Triple Con­certo for Vi­o­lin, Cello, and Pi­ano (Op. 60), with three-quar­ters of Opus One front and cen­ter. It is an odd piece, un­remit­ting in its Apol­lo­nian grandeur. The cello comes off as primus in­ter pares in the solo group. Beethoven scales the work around the lux­u­ri­ous as­pect of that in­stru­ment, which he seems in­tent on em­pha­siz­ing, and that means the pi­ano and vi­o­lin are adapted to an at­ti­tude that sounds less id­iomatic than in his solo con­cer­tos for those in­stru­ments. The piece is of­ten en­coun­tered as an all-star tour­na­ment in which high-bud­get soloists in­ter­sect on the same stage for a gala per­for­mance, a strat­egy that can lead to vul­gar­ity of the “Any­thing you can do, I can do bet­ter” va­ri­ety. What a treat it was to hear the fea­tured parts ren­dered with the cor­po­rate con­cern of fine cham­ber play­ing, mak­ing it a con­certo for pi­ano trio rather than for three in­di­vid­ual soloists. — James M. Keller

Opus One, with Anne-Marie McDer­mott

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