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Expert turns in chamber concerts

by Philip Campbell

San Francisco Performances presented violinist Daniel Hope. Photo: Nicolas Zonvi
San Francisco Performances presented violinist Daniel Hope. Photo: Nicolas Zonvi  

Two classical chamber concerts closed a busy October for music-lovers last week, and, unpredictably, offered time for reflection and needed breaks from the madness of recent events. San Francisco Performances presented violinist Daniel Hope with five virtuoso friends in "Air: A Baroque Journey" at Herbst Theatre, and the San Francisco Symphony's 2018-19 Chamber Music Series opened with simultaneous concerts at Davies Symphony Hall and Gunn Theater, California Palace of the Legion of Honor.

The Sunday matinee at DSH featured members of the SFS in works by Krzysztof Penderecki, contemporary composer Michael Colgrass, and passionate Romantic Cesar Franck. An all-Beethoven program at the Legion of Honor with violinist Alexander Barantschik (SFS Concertmaster), cellist Peter Wyrick (Associate Principal), and guest pianist Anton Nel was tempting, but the bill at Davies took priority for its boldly contrasted range of selections.

Violinist Nadya Tichman (Associate Concertmaster), violist David Kim, and cellist Amos Yang (Assistant Principal) performed Krzysztof Penderecki's tough, brief (about 15-minute), and sometimes lyrical String Trio (1991); percussionist Jacob Nissly (SFS Principal) and violist Jonathan Vinocour (SFS Principal) turned their duet performance of Michael Colgrass' Variations for 4 Drums and Viola (1957) into an almost ritualistic showpiece; and violinists David Chernyavsky and Polina Sedukh, violist Katie Kadarauch (SFS Assistant Principal), cellist Margaret Tait, and guest pianist Asya Gulua finished with a richly blended reading of Franck's urgently emotional Piano Quintet in F minor (1878).

The musicians' beautifully rehearsed understanding of the diverse scores made clear sense of Penderecki's typically fierce but humanistic musical language. The players swiftly dispatched their individual moments, and the determined return of the severe opening chords united them at the close.

Nissly and Vinocour had fun with Michael Colgrass' Variations, and their seriously expert but lighthearted approach communicated well with the audience. Rather long and, necessarily, fragmented by the percussionist's need to tune between the five movements, the score still allows for soft and lyrical subtlety, and explodes with engaging energy. With seemingly incongruent instruments, the composer creates a complementary duet that allows ingenious solo and mutual musical expressions.

Franck's masterpiece Quintet in F minor steamed up the drawing rooms of Europe in the late 19th century, and with its plethora of fortissimos and pianissimos, the composer's outpouring of emotion remains potent today. Inspired by his mistress, the piece is a masterpiece of cyclic form that requires precision and visceral feeling from the musicians. Guest pianist Asya Gulua anchored the performance with clear and robust tone. Familiar faces from the SFS, violinists David Chernyavsky and Polina Sedukh, cellist Margaret Tait, and violist Katie Kadarauch, added luxurious sensuality and ardor.

Hope springs

Earlier in the week violinist Daniel Hope and musician friends Simos Papanas, violin; Nicola Mosca, violoncello; Emanuele Forni, luthe; Naoki Kitaya, cembalo; and Michael Metzler, percussion, also showed an earthy human side to older music, in "Air: A Baroque Journey."

The evening-long exploration of music by Diego Ortiz, Handel, Andrea Falconieri, Johann Paul Von Westhoff, Nicola Matteis, Vivaldi, Jean-Marie Leclair, and Marco Uccelini was narrated by Hope with a mixture of impish wit and fascinating scholarship. Who knew such an obscure playlist (well, Handel and Vivaldi are pretty famous) could yield such a lively and musically satisfying concert? Obviously, Hope and his thoroughly engaged and often downright funny cohorts were aware of the material's worth.

They guided us through the cavalcade with gleeful enthusiasm, and weren't afraid of getting physical. Sight gags and choreography don't ordinarily appear in a "classical" program, but Hope and company wanted to convey the "pop" side of Baroque music, especially the dance tunes, and proved delightfully agile in the demonstration.

In September 2017, Daniel Hope became Music Director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco. His international career is obviously flourishing as well. Most of the composers on the San Francisco Performances bill are included on a Deutsche Grammophon recording, "Daniel Hope. Air: A Baroque Journey." Pachelbel's ubiquitous Canon and Gigue in D Major and a generous portion of Telemann are included, but, based on happy discoveries from the Herbst concert, I will take a listen for an encore of the recent discoveries.

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