The Capitol Chamber Artists always manages to find something unusual to perform, and its Saturday concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church was no exception.
Actually, the group played two concerts: a pre-concert and the scheduled one. For the earlier program, violinist Mary Lou Saetta, cellist Andre O’Neil, pianist Aniko Szokody and organist Alfred Fedak played short selections. They included a dramatic organ “Prelude for the Sabbath” (1973) by Max Janowski; Zikmund Schul’s sardonic “Two Chassidic Dances” for violin and cello; Herbert Fromm’s melancholic “Chassidic Interlude” (1959) for organ; the first movement of Prokofieff’s solo Violin Sonata, Op. 115, which sounded more like Bach than Prokofieff; and Ernest Bloch’s rousing “Wedding March No. 3 – Maoz Tzur” (1951). A Chopin Nocturne and a Milhaud Pastorale for Organ were also performed.
After a quick break, Saetta and Szokody navigated through Prokofieff’s Violin Sonata, No. 1 in F minor. Written during World War II, the four movements are almost like tone painting with deliberately rough, harsh and accented bowings and passing dissonance of unpretty tones alternating with strangely haunting and light, sweet scalar fragments of melody on a muted violin.
These “slithering scales,” in Prokofieff’s words, simulated “wind through the graveyards.” The work is demonic more in its intent than technical difficulties, although the frequent double stops were hardly easy.
Saetta attacked the work with suitable emphasis, but pitch issues occasionally occurred. Szokody was excellent in the spare but effective part and kept accurate balances.
Another surprise was Erwin Schulhoff’s “Hot Sonata” for alto saxophone and piano, with Irvin Gilman and Szokody. Gilman, who is in his 80s and recovered from a stroke, is something of a magician. Usually, he plays flute with the group, but saxophone was his first love. He hasn’t lost his touch.
Schulhoff’s music was banned by the Nazis, and he died in a concentration camp, but this four-movement piece is pure jazz and very 1940s film noir. The sax line wails and croons, supported by catchy figures in the piano part and jazz harmonies. It was a very urban, cool sound, and Gilman projected a big, full sound. Szokody stayed in sync.
Fedak played his “Incantations” (1987), which was a big, splashy, brightly colored piece that he told the small crowd is played annually during the holidays at Temple Emmanuel in New York City. Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 was also performed.
The group’s next concert is Dec. 22 at the church.