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Camerata Pacifica Season Closes

The quartet, back from a world tour, puts Mozart, Schumann and Grieg in the mix for Friday's concerts.

imageEdvard Grieg was a little man who wrote big music. Camerata Pacifica will perform his Sonata for Cello & Piano, Opus 36, at an 8 p.m. concert Friday.

Camerata Pacifica, back from its first international tour, will play its last brace of concerts in Santa Barbara this season at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday in the Fleischmann Auditorium of the Museum of Natural History

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The stellar quartet of musicians includes Warren Jones, piano, Catherine Leonard, violin, Richard O’Neill, viola, and Ani Aznavoorian, cello. They will play Wolfgang Mozart’s Duo for Violin & Viola in B-flat Major, K. 424; Edvard Grieg’s Sonata for Cello & Piano, Opus 36 and Robert Schumann’s Quartet for Piano & Strings in E-flat Major, Opus 47. (The Grieg piece will be performed only at the 8 p.m. concert.)

The Camerata’s tour included recitals at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, the Guildhall, Derry, in Northern Ireland, the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland, Wigmore Hall in London, England, and St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The players were on the road from April 23 through May 3, a whirlwind of a schedule, but they will have had two weeks of rest before Friday’s concerts.

The chamber music of Grieg is made up of just five pieces: three violin-piano sonatas - No. 1 in F Major, Opus 8 (1865); No. 2 in G Major, Opus 13 (1867); and No. 3 in C minor, Op.45 (1886-87) - a String Quartet in G minor, Opus 27 (1877-78); and the Cello-Piano Sonata in a Minor, Opus 36 (1883).

Although each of the five is a gorgeous masterpiece, none of them is played very often. They are seldom mentioned by musicologists treating the chamber music of the second half of the 19th century. Each time I hear one of them, I am astonished - not to say outraged - that such rich and powerful and involving music is so regularly overlooked on concert programs. All credit, then, to the Camerata and to the Warren Jones/ Ani Aznavoorian team for playing the Cello-Piano Sonata. It is the last of Grieg’s chamber works.

Although there are only two instruments involved, the sonata is built on a grand scale, and it is guaranteed to fill any hall with sound. The tunes may have derived from folk music, but the music gushes in great plumes from the Romantic spring. In his music, Grieg was, in fact, a Romantic of a very pure type.

If there’s a disconnect, it comes in with the differential between the music itself and the public persona of the composer. Grieg and his wife were both shorter than 5 feet tall, and the composer played his diminutive stature to the hilt. He was very much the cuddly little character, endearing and harmless, given to leaving cute, self-effacing notes to potential burglars when he went out for a walk: “Dear thieves, please don’t bother with these manuscripts; they are worthless.”

Once you hear the first few bars of the Cello Sonata, all that elfin nonsense disappears.

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