|Sakura Cello Quintet: l-r Peter Myers, Stella Cho, Benjamin Lash, Michael Kaufman, Yoshida Masuka (in this performance Ben Solomonow stood in for Mr. Masuka).
Sakura Cello Quintet, South Bay Chamber Music Society, Los Angeles Harbor College
DAVID J BROWN
But, you may well ask, what cello quintet repertoire? Opening its 2021-2022 season, the SBCMS's first live concert with audience for more than a year-and-a-half might at first glance have seemed a lightweight affair, a toe in the water or dip in the shallow end, if you will— fairly short in total duration and entirely comprising arrangements of brief pieces, some well-known and some less so.
They opened with a group of four Renaissance items, three Tudor and one Spanish, and in the intimate but rich acoustic of LA Harbor College's Music Room, the cellos' wide timbral spectrum imparted an organ-like depth and breadth to the stately harmonies of Orlando Gibbons' a cappella motet The Silver Swan, in an unattributed arrangement. The pace picked up with John Dowland's M. George Whitehead his Almand, and grew yet more sprightly in his The Earle of Essex Galliard, both from Dowland's great set of five-part instrumental pieces entitled Lachrimæ, published in 1604.
One can hardly imagine a starker change of style and content than the Ritual Fire Dance from Falla's ballet El amor brujo (Love the magician), arranged by Mr. Myers. The opening tremolando buzz on lower strings from the orchestral original translated perfectly, as one might have expected, to four cellos; what was more surprising was how effective the ensuing insidious oboe tune sounded in the husky high treble of the remaining instrument.
|Brahms (l) and Joachim (r).
This arrangement was by Sakura's Michael Kaufman, who was also responsible for the quite lovely version of Dvořák's Silent Woods, Op. 68 No. 5 that opened the concert's second half. Like the Vocalise this exists in many guises, much the most familiar being the one made by Dvořák himself for cello and small orchestra from his four-hands piano original. Without scores to hand it was impossible to be sure, but presumably Mr. Kaufman's arrangement reproduced pretty much Dvořák's solo cello part, in this performance democratically shared between the players.
Again a major change of pace came with Somewhere from West Side Story, the evanescent harmonies from which Bernstein's unforgettable melody is suspended being eloquently realized in the arrangement by Simon Parkin (not a Sakura member). Then smack in arrived Mambo, complete with the familiar shouts!
Finally, there was Spain, by Chick Corea. To me, any intrinsic quality the piece had leant heavily on the fragments of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez adagio that form an introduction to what seemed an elaboration of generic Spanishisms—but then, jazz remains pretty much a closed book to me. Undeniably, though, Peter Myers' arrangement and Sakura's performance made the most of it, kicking off SBCMS's new season with panache and swirl. Welcome back!
South Bay Chamber Music Society, Los Angeles Harbor College, 8pm, Friday, September 24, 2021.
Images: Sakura Cello Quintet: Artists' website; Ben Solomonow: laphil.com; Composers: Wikimedia Commons.
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