Camarada, one of San Diego’s respected chamber music series, opened its 20th season Sunday (September 28) at the Mingei International Museum with a concert of ingratiating music from the last century. In her welcome to the audience seated in the museum’s Rotunda Gallery, flutist and Camarada Executive Director Beth Ross-Buckley explained that her goal was to present music that was off the beaten path and underrepresented in contemporary performance.
With a composer lineup that included Fikret Amirov, Gaspar Cassadó, and Dick Kattenburg, she met that challenge with flying colors. The catch, of course, is that just because a work is obscure does not make it prima facie musically rewarding. I was engaged by Cassadó’s “Intermezzo e Dance Finale” for cello, the conclusion of his larger “Suite for Cello Solo,” largely because of cellist Erin Breene’s masterful sweep of its dark, searching motifs. She gave empathetic flight to the mysterious vision of this minor Catalan composer.
In “Six Pieces for Flute and Piano,” the Azerbaijani composer Amirov dressed up some folk tunes from his remote culture in the Caucasus in such cautious, by-the-numbers tonal settings that his Soviet musical censors would never call him on the carpet to confess sins of musical modernism, as they did Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Each piece was either sprightly and cheerful or dignified and thoughtful. Ross-Buckley played them as seriously as if they were sonatas by Poulenc or Prokofiev, her liquid, slightly sensusous sonority and agile execution enlivening Amirov’s prim figuration.
I was happily surprised by the layered complexity of Nino Rota’s Trio for flute, violin and piano, the one work on this program that did not pander to its audience. The middle movement unfolded with well-crafted counterpoint that invoked mysterious, even mystical visions, and the finale was one of those seamless moto perpetuo whirlwinds that called to mind the last movement of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Rota’s fame may reside in his classic film scores (for the likes of Fellini, Visconti, and capped by Coppola’s first two Godfather epics), but his Trio demonstrated that his compositional prowess was not limited to accompanying the silver screen.
Violinist David Buckley, pianist Dana Burnett and cellist Breene gave their most polished and stylish ensemble effort in Sergei Rachmaninoff’’s “Trio Élégiaque in G Minor,” an early work that reflected the composer’s admiration for Tchaikovsky’s ripe Russian Romanticism. Dutch composer Dick Kattenburg’s promising career was prematurely ended by the Holocaust, but his Quartet for flute, violin, cello and piano displayed a rambunctious neo-classical spirit that sounded like a witty homage to the French composers known as Les Six. Such carefree musical badinage sent a chill up my spine as I reflected on his cruel demise.