The Capitol Chamber Artists opened its 40th season Saturday night at the First Congregational Church with a concert devoted to music written by many composers who died in concentration camps during World War II. That in itself provided plenty of drama, even when the players struggled with some of their parts. The most notable problem was pitch, which seemed to haunt violinist/violist Mary Lou Saetta, flutist Irv Gilman and cellist Andre O’Neil. For obvious reasons, only fortepianist Uel Wade escaped.
Saetta gave brief backgrounds of each of the composers, which in some cases added poignancy to their work. O’Neil and Wade began with Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidre,” a traditional Jewish song played at Yom Kippur. O’Neil stated the theme and then Wade developed it with some extravagant technical excursions. O’Neil played with a good tone, occasionally uneven pitch, but nice phrasing and much feeling. Wade was a steady partner.
Zigmund Schul’s “Two Chassidic Dances” for viola and cello were short, dark, and quirky with Klezmer overtones. They were like little devil’s dances. Saetta and O’Neil kept the spirit, although the duo was a bit rough.
Saetta discovered the Terezin March on an old record. It came with a poignant poem in which the inmates of the concentration camp believed they would conquer the cruelties of their surroundings and leave the camp. Saetta transcribed the surprisingly buoyant march for quartet with everyone playing lines in unison.
Erwin Schulhoff’s music has received several performances in the last few years, but his Concertino for flute/piccolo, viola and cello is a rarity. Schulhoff seemed in this piece to have a penchant for unison lines, open harmonies reminiscent of American Indian chants and traces of Hindemith-like harmonies, which he scattered throughout the four movements. But there were some interesting rhythmic passages and technically challenging moments for Gilman, who did well with them. More rehearsal would have pulled the work together more.
Max Steiner’s “Arabian Love Song” for flute and piano evoked visions of harems and full moons over white sands. Ernest Bloch’s “Baal Shem Suite, Scenes from Chassidic Life” for violin and piano might have been the best written work on the program with its soaring violin lines and expressive piano part. Also performed was Joseph Achron’s “Hebrew Melody”.