La Musica, one of two important international chamber-music festivals in Sarasota, has taken great steps to make its programs exciting by including new works by 21st century composers, as well as music I like to think of as “rare” and “well-done.” This season’s third program, April 15th, at the Sarasota Opera House, featured both, along with an opener by Beethoven that seemed more like filler than substance.
Beethoven’s Serenade in D is scored for flute, violin and viola. A well-known work, it is light, elegant and sometimes humorous. Violinist Federico Agostini and violist Bruno Giuranna had some pitch problems and tended to push the tempo at times, but they were bolstered and saved by the shimmering playing of flutist Carol Wincenc, whose sound and demeanor on stage brought the piece home.
John Harbison is a well-known contemporary composer whose influences run the gamut from Bach to Stravinsky. For his work, “Nov. 19, 1828,” he looked to Schubert for inspiration and came up with a piece that, on first hearing, is both intriguing and disturbing. The very Schubertian scherzo-like third movement was particularly turbulent with its changing tonalities, while the fugue in the finale was more Bach than Schubert with a little Ives thrown in for fun. One of the problems with a single hearing of a new work is trying to judge the performance, and all one can say for these excellent musicians — pianist Derek Han, violinist Jennifer Frautschi, violist Daniel Avshalomov and cellist Xenia Jankovic — is that they seemed to play it well, with a good sense of style and flair.
For us, the real winner of the evening was the rarely heard Piano Quartet in B-flat, Opus 41, by Saint-Saëns. Pianist James Winn, violinist Massimo Quarta, violist Avshalomov and cellist Julie Albers were riveting as they captured the big, lush, romanticism of this wonderful work. Yes, it’s a showstopper-of-a-piece. But Saint-Saëns constructed it brilliantly by weaving the same tuneful chorale theme through each movement. The music and the performance made me rush home to order a recording for my collection.
— June LeBell