In Los Angeles, Camerata Pacifica finds Beethoven at his most delicious

United StatesUnited States Beethoven and Schubert: Camerata Pacifica (Joseph Lin and Tricia Park [violins], Melissa Reardon [viola], Andrew Janss [cello]), Gilles Vonsattel (piano). Zipper Hall, Colburn School, Los Angeles. 3.10.2019. (LV)

Camarata Pacifica

Beethoven – String Quartet No.15 Op.132

Schubert – Piano Sonata D.960

On the page in the program book for the Camerata Pacifica concert last – the first in a quartet of performances in the area — the largest figures on the page were ‘45’ and ‘40’, the respective lengths of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op.132 and Schubert’s Piano Sonata D.960. The result was a reminder of how serious – and glorious – chamber music concerts can be.

With the New York-based ensemble placed towards the back of the stage in a very dark hall, there was very little eye contact between the players and the audience; underlining this objectivity, the four musicians were all relatively noncommittal, in terms of outward physical aspects. Led by Josephn Lin, a former Juilliard Quartet first violinist, nothing distracted the foursome from their unalloyed Beethoven, featuring spectacular intonation and a compelling sense of dialogue.

After covering the Banff International String Quartet Competition at the end of August, I wondered what I would hear. Would this quartet play at some higher rung, and what would that mean? But as the opening notes swelled up from the cellist, to the organ-like tones of the four instruments together, there was a clear sense of unified purpose. If they had been at Banff they would have swept all the prizes.

In their hands, a seamless flow yielded to a sculpted one, with lush viola timbre, laser focus from the first violin with only brief portamento, and an even more sumptuous second violin. By the time they reached the Allegro the group were in the zone, and magic resulted, as in the way the second violin and viola sprung the great violin-cello duet in C major with their rippling triplets.

Their positive approach didn’t always adequately explain the music’s pain and conflict; the landscape might have been scraped barer, to create a sense of exaltation at the end.

Though the Allegro ma non tanto lacked a little mystery with an opening that was more mezzo-forte than piano, it turned the movement into a restless dialogue between two people – perhaps two sets of emotions, with Beethoven as their natural means of expression. In the Trio the second violin’s little upward lurches sounded like erotic twitches. The contrasts between the viola’s earnest lines and the first violin’s silken arpeggios were breathtaking, and the rustic glee with which the viola and cello signaled their impatience was Beethoven at his most delicious.

The Molto adagio opened like the tuning of the world, not glacially slow but exploratory, blooming into dark, double-mocha chords. The group adored the Andante interludes, taken at a fairly rapid clip, and their kittenish little curlicues and gimcracks were affectionately used to prod momentum.

After Lin ripped into a brisk Alla marcia, the quartet took the recitative at the end in full stride without any nerves or anxiety; they laid out its energy and invention without being outrageously wild, but thrilling, nonetheless. After settling into a silky groove, and successfully navigating the Allegro appassionato‘s heavy weather, they cruised through to a finish of symphonic size and power, led by Lin and cellist Andrew Janss. The latter’s faultless work in the treacherous high reaches of his instrument was an additional highlight.

After intermission, Gilles Vonsattel set Schubert’s last piano sonata off at just the right gait, and only had to polish and tweak it now and then to infuse more shades of light into the emotional mood. The landmark trills in the deep bass formed a constellation of dots, which Vonsattel connected through all the episodes, anchored by a light, affectionate touch. He caressed the Andante and let the major key section swell up immensely. And though the Scherzo felt perfunctory, the finale exploded like a bomb.

By sheer coincidence, this concert’s timings – 45 and 40 minutes each – also apply to Camerata Pacifica’s upcoming early December concerts, Bach’s Musical Offering and Beethoven’s C-sharp minor quartet, led again by Lin but joined with different colleagues.

Laurence Vittes

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