The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival opened its 2016 on Sunday July 17 with three works. First was the semi-obligatory nod to a living composer, in this instance the festival’s music director – Mark Neikrug. He played the piano accompanying clarinetist Todd Levy his Kaleidoscope for Clarinet & Piano. Neikrug wrote Kaleidoscope in 1980. Levy is the principal clarinetist of both the Milwaukee Symphony and the Santa Fe Opera orchestras. Kaleidoscope lasts about 12 minutes and consist of a series of short phrases which required considerable virtuosity from Levy. I can’t make much of it after one hearing, though it didn’t seem very impressive.
The first half of the program finished with Mozart’s String Quintet No. 3. Written in 1787 it’s first movement is the longest sonata-allegro before Beethoven. It was the inspiration for Schubert’s monumental quintet in C-major. The Schubert work doubles the cello unlike the Mozart quintets which have an extra viola.
The quintet received a rather desultory reading from a group of fine musicians who do not routinely work together: Cho-Liang Lin and Kyoko Takezawa violins, Che-Yen Chen and Tein-Hsin Cindy Wu violas, and Keith Robinson cello. Their playing was marred by intonation problems and (I suspect but don’t know) inadequate rehearsal time. These are fine musicians who understandably lack the cohesion that results from prolonged interaction.
The Tchaikovsky string sextet (Souvenir de Florence) was played after the intermission. This is a glorious work filled with passion and the extraordinary melodic invention that characterizes the work of the Russian master. I don’t think he ever wrote anything better than this piece which was inspired by a visit to Florence in 1890. It was revised in 1891-2. It received its first performance in 1892. It’s not played as often as its worth merits because of the difficulty in getting together six outstanding string players.
Lin moved to second violin while Takezawa played the first violin part. Cellist Nicholas Canellakis joined the group as the sixth player. The first movement is full of violent passion. The second is made of a beautiful theme which starts in the first violin and is in turn taken by the first cello and then the first viola. Its haunting lyricism is unsurpassed in the chamber music literature. The group played with exciting intensity and gave everything they had to the piece. The audience erupted in approval at the sextet’s end, but again the lack of cohesion gained from regular music making with the same players prevented a completely successful performance. Nevertheless it was a rousing effort.
NEIKRUG Kaleidoscope for Clarinet & Piano
MOZART String Quintet No. 3 in C Major, K. 515
TCHAIKOVSKY Souvenir de Florence