Review – Vivid Impressions

The week began with Camerata San Antonio’s superb accounts of French and Spanish string quartets..

We’ve been privileged to hear many of the most acclaimed globe-trotting string quartets over the years, thanks to the San Antonio Chamber Music Society – and even more privileged to have Camerata San Antonio’s core string quartet in our midst, playing for us several times a year. These folks can go toe-to-toe with the best – violinists Anastasia Parker and Matthew Zerweck, violist Emily Freudigman and cellist Ken Freudigman.

Camerata’s program on Nov. 5 held the sole string quartets of two French masters, Gabriel Fauré and Claude Debussy, and by the French-influenced Spaniard Joaquin Turina. The Fauré was especially welcome: Composed just before he died in 1924, it is one of his finest achievements, an engrossing essay in slippery tonality, dense textures and complex counterpoint.

The performances were consistently vigorous, unified, smartly detailed and sonically lustrous. But most impressive was the ever-clear sense of direction, the inexorable momentum that carried the listener from start to finish, especially in Fauré and Debussy. The Turina piece, with one foot in Spanish folk idioms and one in Debussy, and a bit of Chausson for good measure, was less amenable to a clear arc, but still pleasurable.

The recording equipment visible at this concert emboldens us to hope that Camerata will release a recording of the Fauré and Debussy quartets, at least.

Only one minor complaint: Either the electronic enhancement in the University of the Incarnate Word’s concert hall was set too high or my ears were temporarily hyper-sensitive.

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Review – Season Opener

Three worthy concerts in two days: On Oct. 1, Camerata San Antonio brought back pianist Viktor Valkov to join its excellent string quartet…Camerata San Antonio opened its season in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall with a program of Brahms, pseudo-Brahms (Carl Frühling) and something completely different, Entr’acte (Minuet and Trio) (2011) for string quartet by the American composer Caroline Shaw, the youngest-ever winner of the Pulitzer Prize in music, in 2013.

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Beethoven’s Holy Grails

“Landing on an impossibly distant planet, we hear a sound. It roils and hammers, winks and scowls; it ensnares us in nettles, entangles us in vines, sets us afloat on a cloud; it waits, becalmed, then coils and strikes. Could this be music? Or is it some other mode of being, a shape-shifting life form, existing only in dreams?

We have arrived at Planet Beethoven, specifically at two of the weirdest, wildest, most unnerving soundscapes ever conceived – the Piano Sonata No. 29 (“Hammerklavier”) and the Grosse Fuge, in its original context as the gargantuan final movement of the String Quartet No. 13. Both are in the innocent key of B-flat. Careful! The fruit punch has been spiked with Everclear.”

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Review: A Romanticist of the First Order

“The memory has to board the way-back machine and set the dial to 1992 and a Ravinia Festival appearance by Shura Cherkassky to find a suitable comparison with the pianist Viktor Valkov’s bravura recital for Camerata San Antonio, Dec. 4 in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall.

Mr. Valkov, a native of Bulgaria and a doctoral candidate at Rice University, is a familiar figure hereabouts, mostly in chamber music. He was entirely on his own for this Camerata recital. The generous program leaned strongly in the Romantic direction, and it was in that repertoire that the comparison to Cherkassky was clearest — the brilliant technique, the kaleidoscopic color, the sheer fun.”

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Review: Throwing Caution to the Wind

“Composed in 1843, Schumann’s pioneering work — the first major piece to combine piano and string quartet — remains one of the most commanding peaks of Romantic chamber music. Visiting and local ensembles have performed it several times hereabouts in recent years, always with a cautiousness that left too much of the music’s overflowing life on the page.

But this performance spread its wings and soared as I’ve never heard it before. The manic opening allegro, the giddy, propulsive scherzo and the bold finale were fleet, agile and seamless, compelling from first to last. In the funeral march, the repeating rhythmic pattern took on a death-rattle chill. Mr. Valkov’s crisp diction, deeply etched rhythms and brilliant technique contributed immeasurably to the results and perfectly complemented the string quartet’s taut precision and big, radiant sound. The whole came off as surprisingly contemporary, as if this 19th-century piece would have been just as much at home in Sam’s Burger Joint as in a traditional concert hall.”

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