The Sunday afternoon concert of the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival at the Spa Little Theatre was an unusual one. It featured the star power of pianist Andre Watts, a string quartet composed by 12-year-old Gioachino Rossini and two harp duets.
The concert began with Rossini’s String Sonata No. 3 in C Major with violinists Chantal Juillet and Jose Blumenschein, cellist Efe Baltacigil and double bassist Harold Robinson. Considering that Rossini was so young when he wrote the three-movement work, his skillful writing with the lovely melodies and lively and interactive technical demands is impressive. His choice of instrumentation was based solely on the available players who were visiting a villa where he and his family were staying that summer in 1804. It is one of four sonatas that he wrote for the combination.
The musicians worked well together with Baltacigil showing a particularly tight and well-articulated technique in the quick passages. The second movement had more drama with darker and close harmonies. Rossini gave everyone a chance to show off in the third movement with much brilliant writing.
It’s not often audiences get to hear harp duets. Philadelphia Orchestra harpist Elizabeth Hainen, dressed in a long gold dress, and Czech Philharmonic harpist Jana Bouskova, dressed in a long coral gown, performed two works that showed off many of the instrument’s capabilities.
John Escosa’s arrangement of Ravel’s “Ma Mere L’Oye,” originally for piano duet, had many ethereal moments in which the harpists’ tones shimmered. Pedaling was at a minimum; dynamic contrasts were subtle.
In Felix Godefroid’s Grande Fantaisie, which was written much like an 18th century piano piece, the harpists were challenged with tricky, long technical passages in close harmony, and much pedaling. The Neapolitan kind of melody was pleasing and set off by a rippling accompaniment. The harpists felt each other out for the first page or two before everything began to flow to the final glissandoes.
Schubert’s Quintet for piano and strings (“Trout”) received a marvelously fluid reading from Watts, Blumenschein, Juillet on viola, Baltacigil and Robinson.
Balances were exceptional among the individual parts, which created a beautiful and graceful melding of harmony and melody. Watts’ light fingerwork was a delicate filigree even as his face radiated the pleasure of discovery. Dynamics were subtle, tempos were vivacious and technical passages were frothy.
Tonight’s concert is the Degas connection with Mozart, Satie, Debussy and Chausson. tory>