After a tumultuous political season, Tuesday’s (November 22) Art of Élan concert at the San Diego Museum of Art arrived as welcome solace. Artistic Director Kate Hatmaker gathered four rarely played chamber works by American composers under the topic “defining place.” To my ears, the works’ essentially tonal vocabulary suggested haunts of respite or nostalgic aspiration.Armenian-American Alan Hovhaness crafted a sensuous, mildly exotic escape in his 1971 “Garden of Adonis” for flute and harp, seven short movements beautifully realized by flutist Rose Lombardo and harpist Julie Smith Phillips. The composer gave most of his signature sinuous modal themes to the flute, which Lombardo played with a rich, reedy sonority in the instrument’s lower compass and bright clarity at the opposite end. If the reflective acoustics of the museum’s second floor Fitch Gallery subtly reinforced the flute, they also sustained Phillips’ effusive arpeggios as a beatific sonic halo.
Arthur Foote, a highly respected member of Boston’s circle of Brahman composers who flourished at the turn of the 20th century, penned a charming short tone poem for viola, flute and harp titled “At Dusk.” Violist Travis Maril’s dependably gregarious but polished approach unlocked the work’s Edwardian confidence, and the trio gave a winning account of Foote’s suave themes redolent of effulgent, late Romanticism.
None of the other program selections, however, approached the depth of Kevin Puts’ 2007 “Credo” for string quartet. Originally written for the Miró Quartet, “Credo” managed deftly to move from bustling, motoric textures tinged with flinty, dissonant counterpoint to wistful cantabile sections that suspended time and movement. Violinists Anna Skálová and Kate Hatmaker joined violist Maril and cellist Erin Breene to make this probing four-movement string quartet vibrant.
Hatmaker and her accomplished colleagues opened their program with Andrew Norman’s 2002 “Light Screens,” an episodic but tightly organized etude for flute, violin, viola and cello. Harmonically conservative but elegantly voiced, it could have been titled “Tribute to Aaron Copland.”