La Musica, the international chamber music festival that adorns Sarasota’s rich culture scene every spring, has taken residence in the Opera House. This year’s program runs the gamut from deeply satisfying to so-so. The organization’s third program, held last Thursday evening, was musically and emotionally thrilling.
For reasons I do not understand, Sarasota chamber organizations have expressed fear of including vocal chamber music in their programs. The few times vocal works with string quartets or wind ensembles have made their way, with great trepidation, into programs, they’ve not been successful because the singer wasn’t up to snuff. That was not the case last Thursday when Dina Kuznetsova, a soprano with a stunningly beautiful voice and excellent musicianship, offered “Songs from the Diaspora,” by Roberto Sierra, with violinists Federico Agostini and Nokuthula Ngwenyana, violist Bruno Giuranna, cellist Eric Kim and pianist Derek Han, performing on his own Hamburg Steinway.
From the title, one may think these are songs relating to the expulsion on Jews and their rich culture in 1492 from Spain. But, in reality, these are extremely vibrant settings of folk tales about the sea, the travels of royal families, evil mothers-in-law, crying children and beautiful young girls. Sierra, who was born in 1953, has put a 21st-century spin on the colors Joseph Canteloube used to paint in his gorgeous “Songs of the Auvergne,” and Kuznetsova poured her exquisite voice into the text making these richly embroidered songs come to life. She negotiated the Sephardic (Jewish, Spanish and Islamic) melismatic passages with dexterity.
There is something thrilling about the human voice when it’s combined with a small group of instruments that makes it a string and wind instrument with words floating on top. We can only hope that other chamber groups will follow La Musica’s lead and include the variety the vocal instrument can offer.
The program opened with a technically and emotionally satisfying reading by Agostini, Giuranna and the brilliant cellist Julia Albers of Beethoven’s G major String Trio. It concluded with Brahms’ emotionally packed early sextet (also in G) with violinists Agostini and Eri Noda, violists Giuranna and Ngwenyama, and cellists Albers and Kim playing this seemingly transcendent music like gods.