The latter had a stylistic counterpart in Samuel Barber’s String Quartet, which the visiting Aeolus Quartet played on its concert the previous Sunday for the San Antonio Chamber Music Society. (More about that below.)
Mr. Schwarz fils made an intriguing impressionfrom the start in the Danzi piece. His cello tone, smoky and throaty but amply resonant, brought to mind the distinctive voice of Tallulah Bankhead. It took some getting used to. But then, especially in his engrossing performance of the Tchaikovsky, one noticed the vitality of his phrasing, the instinctual rightness of his timing, the way the thin and thick strokes of his dynamics made the line fully fleshed and fully human. Bravo, dahling.
The “Posthorn” Symphony, extracted from the longer Serenade in D, might not be A-list Mozart, but it affords some remarkable solo opportunities. The opening allegro put the spotlight on concertmaster eric Gratz’s sweet tone. The menuetto included an extensive solo for valveless posthorn, played handsomely by principal trumpet John Carroll, and a sprightly solo for piccolo (Julie Luker). The musical apex, however, was the second movement, very much like a brooding aria from one of Mozart’s operas; it was lovingly shaped by Mr. Schwarz père. The orchestral sound throughout this work was more viscous and less transparent than the sound we heard in Mozart under music director Sebastian Lang-Lessing (Jan. 6) or under guest violinist and leader Boris Blacher (Jan. 13). Oddly, the conductor got a more Mozartean sound in the Tchaikovsky, thanks in part to slightly reduced strings.
The American composer Howard Hanson was a fine craftsman. His Second Symphony (1930) shows an full command of orchestration and harmony, clearly revealed in this luminous performance. But its ideas are threadbare, and its passions seem altogether counterfeit, like the properly constructed but emotionally empty pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The music too often devolves into cloying sweetness. A lemon! A lemon! My kingdom for a lemon!
Barber’s String Quartet, with the famous mournful Adagio at its center, represents a more-nourishing variety of 20th-century American Romanticism. The Aeolus Quartet, performing in Temple Beth-El, paired the Barber with Two Pieces for String Quartet by Barber’s slightly more challenging contemporary Aaron Copland. The concert, in Temple Beth-El, opened with Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C Minor and closed with Robert Schumann’s String Quartet in A.
Formed at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2008, the Aeolus produced a consistently polished, unified sound, achieving warmth without obtrusive vibrato, and ensemble was admirably precise. Its chordings were gorgeous and perfectly balanced in the Barber and Schumann adagios.
The Schumann was, by a wide margin, the most substantial work on the program, and it got the best performance, even though (or maybe because) it has only recently been added to the troupe’s repertoire. In the rest of the program, the performances seemed too controlled; the Schumann performance was just as meticulous in its craft but also imbued with a sense of discovery.
A père, a fils, and two American Romantics
SA Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, Julian Schwarz; Aeolus Quartet
January 28, 2017
Sometimes nepotism works out just fine. Former Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz, guest conductor for the San Antonio Symphony’s concert of Jan. 27 in the Tobin Center, brought along his son, cellist Julian Schwarz, who did a bang-up job in Tchaikovsky’s familiar Rococo Variations and an enjoyable if obscure trifle, Franz Danzi’s Variations on a Theme from Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
The Mozart Festival concert opened with Mozart’s “Posthorn” Symphony and closed with an excellent account of Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2, “Romantic.”