incident light

Camerata San Antonio

Bohemian music, international standard

February 9, 2010

When Camerata San Antonio is on top of its game, the result is music-making to an international standard. That was the case on Feb. 7 in an unusually interesting program of music by Bohemian composers, in Travis Park United Methodist Church.

The concert opened with two out-of-the-way but highly rewarding pieces -- Bohuslav Martinu’s Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola and Erwin Schullhoff’s Five Pieces for String Quartet. The most familiar work was the closer, Antonin Dvorak’s congenial String Quintet in E-flat, “American,” though even that work is far from commonplace -- it’s somewhat in the shadow of another Dvorak “American,” the String Quartet in F.

Despite the title, Martinu’s “madrigals” -- a motoric allegro, an atmospheric andante and a quick, dancelike finale -- sound (to my ears) more rooted in baroque counterpoint than in Renaissance polyphony. The harmonies, especially in the slow movement, are fully in keeping with Martinu’s Bohemian-inflected modernism. It’s a fine piece, worthy of greater exposure. The performance, by violinist Matthew Zerweck and violist Lauren Magnus, was polished, taut and energetic. Both players were fully engaged with the music, with each other and with the audience.

Schullhoff was a Jewish composer of high repute who died in a German concentration camp in 1942. Recent years have brought a revival of interest in his music, all of it well crafted. His Five Pieces, dating from 1923, is (again, to my ears) the cream of the crop. These hyperactive but lean pieces vamp on folk and popular idioms -- the first is a cockeyed waltz, the last a frenzied tarantella -- and pass them through a bracing modernist, neoclassical lens. Palpable joy is evident in the composition, and in the listening. Collaborators in the alert, stylish performance were violinists Karen Stiles and Zerweck, violist Emily Freudigman and cellist Kenneth Freudigman.

In the Dvorak, those players were joined by Magnus, a terrifically talented newcomer to the San Antonio Symphony’s roster, in a warm, big, rhythmically incisive performance, first-class all the way.

Mike Greenberg