San Francisco Symphony chamber musicians balance the familiar and the unfamiliar
Since virtually all the instruments used at that time are now obsolete, it was necessary to bring in specialist performers on instruments such as the sackbut, the dulcian and the cornetto. These guests, drawn from all over Canada, helped to give the concert the sound of the period in which it was set, and by their highly polished playing contributed substantially to the success of the event as a whole. The core of the performance was, of course, in the choral element, and as on previous occasions, the Spiritus Chamber Choir showed itself to be an ensemble of high capability, balance and tight ensemble. I was immediately struck by the solidity of the bass line, providing that distinctive Germanic sound to the group. Also impressive was the idiomatic sung German. The group overall was beautifully balanced and with the high quality of the individual singers, the effect was gloriously rich in tone.
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However, there is much about this piano quartet that would indicate awareness of the chamber music of Gabriel Faure, whose two piano quartets were composed in 1876 (Opus 15 in C minor) and 1886 (Opus 45 in G minor). One almost gets the sense that Catoire was evoking the refined spirit of Parisian salon life without necessarily having ever had personal experience of that setting. The program began with an E-flat major divertimento by Michael Haydn. Scored for viola (David Kim), cello (Yang), and bass (David Chandler), its focus on the lower register was certainly diverting. In many respects the piece was almost a duo sonata for viola and cello with the bass providing the continuo.
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