Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Monterey Symphony Chamber Players Bring the First of Two Programs to Noontime Concerts

Violinist Christina Mok has been Concertmaster of the Monterey Symphony since 2010. She also has an active interest in chamber music. When she discovered that other members of the ensemble shared this interest, she took it upon herself to organize and curate a series of concerts performed under the banner of the Monterey Symphony Chamber Players. This afternoon Noontime Concerts at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral presented the first of two concerts by this ensemble-within-an-ensemble; and the second concert will be given next week.

The visiting instrumentalists for both of these occasions are violinists Mok and Tina Minn, violist Chad Kaltinger, cellist Drew Ford, and clarinetist Steve Sanchez. This week they performed three selections; next week the entire group will assemble to perform Johannes Brahms Opus 115 clarinet quintet in B minor. Each of today’s pieces involved a different combination of musicians, and Mok and Minn alternated in playing first violin.

The program opened with Antonín Dvořák’s Opus 74, his terzetto in C major scored for two violins and viola. The label is a bit odd, since it is basically Italian for a three-line group in rhymed poetry, best known as the underlying structure in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. However, Dvořák’s terzetto in unabashedly secular; and its upper-register setting in which the viola is responsible for the “bass line” seemed to have encouraged the composer to write some of his most intimate phrases. The Scherzo movement is particularly alluring for the elaborate interplay of different rhythmic patterns among only three instruments. If Mok, Minn, and Kaltinger were not always right on the money, they never short-changed the spirit of this music; and they always reliably negotiated their way out of any awkward positions and returned to a secure account of Dvořák’s text.

Minn and Mok then changed positions and were joined by Ford for a performance of Joseph Haydn’s Hoboken IV/3 in G major, a divertimento originally written for two flutes and cello, with the possibility of having violins play the flute parts. This is the third of four trios that Haydn wrote on his first trip to England, where the flute was a popular instrument. As a result the set has come to be called the “London” trios. Hoboken IV/3 is distinguished by having an opening tempo marking of Spiritoso, and high spirits definitely prevailed in this afternoon’s account of one of Haydn’s less conventional chamber music genres.

The final selection was a quartettino for clarinet and string trio by the Hungarian composer Rezső Kókai with Mok as the violinist. The label is the Italian for “little quartet.” Each of the four movements has a label that also denotes the miniaturist premise of the composition: Sonatina, Scherzino, Canzonetta, and Finaletto. The thematic material suggests that Kókai shared the ethnomusicological interests of fellow Hungarians Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók. (He may even have drawn upon material collected from their field studies.) The brevity of each movement effectively underscored the folk rhetoric of the entire piece, which made for a diverting conclusion to the concert.

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