La Musica has brought us some stellar programs with equally stellar performers in the past but this year. Much of what we heard April 10 and April 13, at the Sarasota Opera House, has been quite special.
It was wonderful, for example, hearing violinist Pamela Frank again, after a long absence from performing. Her ebullient personality and sumptuous tone were particularly welcome in the beautifully played Mendelssohn octet for which she appeared with seven colleagues: Anne Schoenholtz, Ruth Lenz, Federico Agostini, Bruno Giuranna, Rebecca Albers, Christopher Costanza and Julie Albers. Schoenholtz, who bore the brunt of much of the melodic line, has a rich, warm sound, and the two quartets — beautifully matched in tone and quality — brought this spectacular work to youthful life that complemented the composer’s teenage exuberance.
Although the young Mendelssohn closed the April 10 program, an early work by an even younger Rossini (he was only 12 when he wrote it) opened that concert: The Sonata a Quattro No. 1. Here, Agostini, Schoenholtz, Albers and bass player Franco Petracchi turned in a beautifully blended, well-articulated performance that was especially mindful of dynamics and colors that allowed the sparkling wit of the composer to shine.
Another dazzling performance opened the April 13 concert, when French horn ace John Zirbel appeared with Daniel Avshalomov, Frank, Giuranna and Albers for one of the finest performances of Mozart’s E flat horn quintet in memory. Zirbel plays the horn with the same ease most of us brush our teeth, and his consummate mastery of the instrument, coupled with the musicality and blend of his colleagues, made this a breathtaking musical experience.
The Mozart was followed by the world premiere of the “Quintet: 2+3 = 25” by Dick Hyman. It’s a convoluted title, which, according to Hyman, means: two pianos, plus thee stringed instruments, equals 25 (the anniversary of La Musica). But, by any name, it’s a doozy of a piece. Intricate, with rhythms and syncopations that may boggle the mind but never perplex the ever-present, ever-tapping Hyman left foot, this is a jazzy classic that runs the musical gamut from Poulenc to Gershwin with a Latin dance or two thrown in for good measure. In a way, it’s a two-piano (Hyman and Han) concerto with violin (Schoenholtz), viola (Giuranna) and cello (Albers) in an almost superfluous but mind-bending obbligato. It’s an excruciatingly difficult piece that one hopes will make its way into the repertory of chamber musicians everywhere.