It’s probably my imagination, but it feels like this season’s Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival has gone quintet-happy.
Not that I’m complaining, mind.
So far this summer we’ve heard quintets in various configurations by Claude Debussy, André Caplet, Gunther Schuller, Carl Maria von Weber, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Ludwig van Beethoven, Walter Braunfels, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Carl Nielsen. Yet to come in the two weeks remaining of the festival: more of the same by Anton Bruckner, Robert Schumann, Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, Mozart again and Franz Schubert. Wow.
Sometimes a quintet is just a chamber work yearning to be a symphony, like the Bruckner. Sometimes, like the Weber, it’s a concerto for solo instrument. More often, though, the quintet permits greater instrumental coloration, complexity and depth than, say, a quartet.
Mozart’s irresistible “Quintet for Piano and Winds, K. 452” recalls the composer’s large output of serenades and divertimenti. With a few exceptions, these are minor if delightful background music, often for outdoor use. But the addition of a keyboard brings the music indoors and broadens it, making it clear this is, for sure, chamber music.
The stellar lineup for the Mozart “Quintet,” heard at noon, Aug. 4, included Liang Wang, principal oboe with the New York Philharmonic; Ricardo Morales, principal clarinet with the Philadelphia Orchestra; Milan Turkovic, member of the Ensemble Wien-Berlin; Philip Myers, principal horn with the New York Philharmonic; and the gifted young Israeli pianist, Inon Barnatan.
Unhappily, the lightness and flexibility that Barnatan brought to the work went unmatched by the ensemble, with little variation in dynamic range and with difficulties in balance throughout. Much of the problem lay with an overbearing horn. The concert had opened with a lively account of Beethoven’s “String Trio, Op. 9, No. 3” with violinist Jennifer Frautschi, violist Lily Francis and cellist Sophie Shao.
A similar programming formula held true for the noon concert on Aug. 6: Beethoven plus a quintet—the latter being Nielsen’s happy-making “Wind Quintet, Op. 43.” It’s hard to think of a more blue-sky, who-brought-the-picnic-basket number than this one. The quartet of wind players from the Mozart “Quintet” were joined by flutist Tara Helen O’Connor for a performance marked by exuberance, precision and great good humor.
The same could not be said of the opening Beethoven, the “Violin and Piano Sonata, No. 5, Op. 24.” Frautschi and pianist Marc Neikrug traded balance problems throughout and, while matters improved in the concluding Rondo, their reading stayed earth-bound.
Try as I might, I couldn’t detect any goat feet emerging from Wang’s pant legs that Thursday night. This despite his solitary oboe’s seriously Pan-like impression in Benjamin Britten’s idyllic “Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, Op. 49.” Wang provided a mellifluous tone painting of Les Six from the age of gold. Then, with Neikrug’s able accompaniment, he moved from gods to bugs in a witty reading of Britten’s “Two Insect Pieces.”
To follow, the four musical friends who comprise OPUS ONE (pianist Anne-Marie McDermott; Ida Kavafian, violin; Steven Tenenbom, viola; and cellist Peter Wiley) collaborated in a warm-hearted reading of the Mozart “Piano Quartet, K. 493.” Their deeply satisfying performance served as a sort of curtain-raiser for the evening’s main event: Ludwig Spohr’s “Nonet, Op. 31.”
The “Nonet” may not have a thought in its pretty head, but, oh, it makes a lovely noise. Take a splash of Gaetano Donizetti, sprinkle with Giacomo Rossini, leaven with a touch of Felix Mendelssohn and stir vigorously. That’s what the mischievous ensemble (that wind quintet from the Nielsen, plus fiddler Glenn Dicterow, violist Teng Li, cellist Nicholas Canellakis and bass-player Marji Danilow) served up.
Attacks were impeccable, balance was faultless, the performers radiated good cheer and the audience yelped with pleasure as it went smiling into the summer night.