Samuel Johnson's remark about Paradise Lost—"None ever wished it longer than it is"—came to mind twice at the Aug. 10 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival concert in St. Francis Auditorium. First time: hearing Marc Neikrug's new work for piano quartet, "Green Torso—Green Torso Too." Second time: enjoying the program's main event, Franz Schubert's generously scaled "Octet, D. 803."
Schubert's "Octet" holds the record for the composer's largest and longest chamber work. A gifted amateur clarinetist commissioned the piece and, not surprisingly, there's plenty for the clarinet to do. Ricardo Morales met the many challenges the "Octet" provides, as did the rest of the fine SFCMF ensemble in a viga-rattling reading.
Neikrug's work takes its inspiration from Hopi artist Dan Namingha—and his gift of a small cast-bronze female torso for the composer (a large version of the piece is on-stage at this season's concerts). The musical interpretation, performed by the members of OPUS ONE, falls into three movements, the first of these in three parts: a broken, quavering conversation among the players; a rhapsodic interlude for violin (Ida Kavafian) and piano (Anne-Marie McDermott); then a pounding climax.
A lyrical cello (Peter Wiley) opens the melancholy second movement, its legato line punctuated by sharp, dissonant piano interjections. An elegiac mood prevails. The finale presents a dialogue between piano and strings (with Steven Tenenbom playing viola) that develops a round-like pattern as it moves through a series of rapid crescendos to a furious ending.
Oboist Liang Wang began the concert with Georg Philipp Telemann's solo "Fantasia No. 10, TWV 40:11," and then with pianist Neikrug offered a sensuous account of Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion": classy, atmospheric film music.
Those Thursday at noon concerts continue to be among the festival's best deals, offering inventive programming at a convenient time for a fair price—none more so than the Thursday, Aug. 13 offering, a heady blend featuring three 20th century rarities by Lou Harrison, Chinary Ung and Leoš Janá?cek. The trio Real Quiet (David Cossin, percussion; Felix Fan, cello; Andrew Russo, piano) provided a busy account of Harrison's 1987 work, "Varied Trio," a fascinating, iridescent piece that employs those varied Asian elements the composer often fancied. Gamelan sounds resonated; Cossin struck tuned water bowls in an insistent, repetitive pattern throughout the second movement; the cello flirted with a pentatonic scale in extended solo passages that had an improvisational feeling.
Ung's piece, "Spiral 1," again with Real Quiet and also from 1987, made an exotic companion to "Varied Trio." The Cambodian-American composer provided a dense, wildly complex percussive panorama against which the amplified cello employed just about every technical effect available: glissandos, lots of portamento and sul ponticello playing, down-tuning the C string—you name it. Fan, Cossin, and Russo just tore it up.
In his later works especially, Janá?cek delighted in the sounds of nature. Two cases in point: his moving, marvelous opera, The Cunning Little Vixen (1924) and his "Concertino" (1925), a mini-concerto for piano (that's McDermott again) augmented by an instrumental sextet evocative of forest fauna. In the opening movement for piano and horn (Julie Landsman), the composer wanted us to hear a "grumpy hedgehog." In the second movement for piano and E-flat clarinet (that would be Todd Levy) he introduced a "fidgety squirrel." The final two movements (scored for the magnificent seven players) provide a persuasive sound picture of night birds and chattering, disputatious quadrupeds.
Twee and/or Beatrix Potter-y? Not at all. The "Concertino" comes across as a good-natured but serious work that makes significant demands on its players and offers significant rewards for its charmed listeners. Janá?cek takes the concept of forest murmurs and, simply, runs wild with it.
Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival 2009 Season
Various locations in Santa Fe and Albuquerque
Through Aug. 24