Monday, July 11, 2011

Cactus Pear's Orient Express program incorporates Mozart and many more

by Valerie Cowan

The lack of stage space for a grand piano in the New Braunfels Presbyterian Church didn’t put a stop to the Cactus Pear Musical Festival during its Friday, July 8 performance. Instead of the Brahms Piano Quartet on the original Orient Express program, the audience was treated to the beautiful, light-hearted sonorities of the Mozart Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 407, featuring San Antonio principal horn player Jeff Garza.

Mozart arranged the piece for horn, two violas, one violin, and cello. Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio, the Cactus Pear artistic director and former San Antonio Symphony concertmaster, announced that this was her debut performance on viola and that she had been playing viola for just four years prior to this performance.

The interwoven tradeoff in melody between the horn and the violin (performed by Carmit Zori), especially during the Andante movement, sounded like a romantic soprano-baritone vocal duet and showcased not only Mozart’s compositional genius but also the artistic propensity of the performers.

The third movement, a Rondo: Allegro, featured charming melodic lines in which Garza took on a star role as the horn parts became impressively virtuosic.

After the group opened with the Mozart Quintet, the artists returned to the Orient Express program with a performance of Ernö Dohnányi’s 1904 Serenade in C, op. 10, for violin, viola, and cello. Infused with the passionate, bold flavor of Hungarian folk melodies, the piece utilized the differing timbres of the instruments and dynamic extremes to the fullest.

The Serenade was followed by an intermission and then Alexander Glazunov’s Oriental Reverie for clarinet and string quartet, written in 1886. The opening clarinet solo, performed by principal clarinet of the San Antonio Symphony Ilya Shterenberg, truly paints a musical picture of time and place. The drama and tension of the piece had me sitting on the edge of my seat.

The concert concluded with Anton Arensky’s 1895 String Quartet no. 2 in A minor, op. 35. The unique instrumental arrangement for this piece featured two cellos along with just one violin and one viola. Unlike Glazunov’s Oriental Reverie, which seemed like one continuous wave of sound, the Arensky Quartet was full of meaningful silences and poignant melodic lines.

Sant-Ambrogio couldn’t have described the performance better when she commented to the audience members that she wanted them to feel as though they were listening to a performance in their own living rooms. Between pieces and at times even between movements, the concert was infused with informal yet informative commentary by the members of the Cactus Pear ensemble. Even though the audience shared casual laughs with the performers between pieces, the musicians returned to concentrated professionalism and flawless artistic expression while performing and sharing their passion for music.

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