Friday, February 24, 2023

concerts review: Pivot Festival

Last year, the Catalyst String Quartet gave several programs for SF Performances, spread throughout the year, of 250 years of music by Black composers. I was familiar with all these composers and was happy to hear them again, so I went to as many of these as I could.

This year, the Catalyst took a different tack, playing three programs on successive nights for a miniature festival of rediscovered composers: ones who were mostly of note in their day but whose music has been forgotten and often unavailable until quite recently. The composers chosen spread over the same 250 year period, though concentrating around the year 1900, and fit into one or two of three unfairly neglected groups: Blacks (all of whom had been played last year), women, and Latin Americans.

So on three consecutive late afternoons, I drove up to the end of the BART line and took the rapid transit in to the city, stopping to eat at one of the collection of exotic places where I transfer from BART to the bus, and then on to Herbst Theater. It was like commuting. There I heard a whole bunch of music most of which I'd never heard before, though most of the composers had familiar names.

One real masterpiece came out of the programs, the String Quintet in E, Op. 1 (1884) by Ethel Smyth, redoutable British composer. The vivid and irregular rhythmic themes in this work insistently claimed the listener's attention: there was no mind-wandering while this was on. Fabulous music.

Several other pieces were of interest. The Dumka for piano trio (violin, viola, piano) by Rebecca Clarke is uncharacteristically consonant for this composer, a little bit in the Dvorak tradition. The last and most interesting movement of the String Quartet in C-sharp Minor (1919) by Germaine Tailleferre (of Les Six, the saucy young French composers of the Twenties) was like Ravel with a dollop of Shostakovich, except this was effectively before Shostakovich. Fanny Mendelssohn's Quartet in E-flat (1834) got a much perkier performance than I heard last week in San Jose. Over the course of the three evenings, we got to hear all six of a set of string quartets (1779) by the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the mixed-race impresario and conductor who commissioned and performed Haydn's "Paris" Symphonies, now being rediscovered as a composer. They were light, short, obviously Haydnesque, and charming. In fact the only piece I didn't like was the only one I'd heard before, the Piano Quintet in F-sharp Minor (1908) by Amy Beach. I like some of her works, like her String Quartet, but too much of her work is clotted uninspired late Romanticism.

Now I want to stay home for a while, but that's not in the cards either: I'm back up to the City four more times in the next ten days, twice on assigned reviews.

No comments:

Post a Comment