Camarada, San Diego’s classy chamber music collective, took its movable feast back to Bread and Salt in Barrio Logan Sunday (Sept. 27), combating the sultry weather with a program of mellifluous airs.Although much of Camarada’s program stuck to familiar pieces by Chopin, Puccini and Vaughan Williams, the opening salvo, David Ludwig’s 2004 “Haiku Catharsis,” offered a fresh vision of harmonic and structural composition. This highly atmospheric sextet in four short movements alluded to the haunting textures of Bartok’s “night music” and provided stock minimalist piano ostinatos, but Ludwig’s eerie, complex harmonic stasis and dulcet counterpoint were clearly his own. A member of the Curtis Institute faculty, this 41-year-old American composer is one to watch. Not surprisingly, his piece included sumptuous flute solos for Camarada Executive Director Beth Ross Buckley, but with greater responsibility comes greater opportunity to shine.
Michael Torke’s 2005 trio for flute, cello and marimba “After the Forest Fire” also stood out as a sensuous and singular offering. Percussionist Christopher Clarino drew elegant, bell-like themes from the marimba, complemented by Buckley’s suave flute arcs and the glossy sheen of Abe Liebhaber’s refined cello lines, both bowed and plucked. Torke’s title could imply many things, but the work’s joyful mood probably signifies the hope of rebirth after destruction.
I was pleasantly surprised with Camarada’s arrangement of Giacomo Puccini’s “Chrysanthemums,” originally a single movement for string quartet. Giving the top line to the enticing shimmer of Buckley’s flute made this delicate work sound like a poignant aria transcription. Violinist Dave Buckley and pianist Dana Burnett’s sensitive account of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” in the composer’s original 1914 version (the frequently played orchestral arrangement came later) gave the violin even greater prominence. Dave Buckley’s glowing timbre in the violin’s highest range and his wistful phrasing worked magic.
Burnett’s two short solos, a Chopin Mazurka and Etude No. 2 from his Op. 25, proved stylish and deftly detailed. During Daniel Dorff’s effusive “Perennials” for flute, clarinet and piano, I felt we should have been sitting in some proper Edwardian drawing room nibbling on cucumber sandwiches instead of sweating in the bare, industrial confines of Bread and Salt. Although Dorff is a contemporary composer, his uncomplicated retro idiom elevated sheer virtuosity over musical substance.
For the ensemble’s programmed encore, Camarada tossed off a nimble arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” which allowed each of the six instrumentalists an opportunity to flash their own take on the familiar theme.