Out from the deep, Pittance wows

On Saturday night, June 16, Pittance Chamber Music delighted the attendees at the Pasadena Music Conservatory, with a lively evening of rarely-heard classical works. The ensemble, made up of members of the L.A. Opera orchestra and chorus who are often only heard from down in the orchestra pit, rose up and demonstrated their unique musical gifts. Hearing and seeing what these musicians can do came not only as a surprise, but as a welcome respite in troubling times. As smaller ensembles struggle to find an audience, Pittance heroically reminds us that chamber music can be just as exciting as larger symphonic works.

The theme of the night was “From Schubert to Schoenfield” and featured works from, yes, Schubert and Schoenfield, as well as Weill and Arensky. Starting the program was Kurt Weill’s song cycle Frauentanz (Women’s Dance), for solo soprano, flute, viola, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. While it is difficult to pinpoint exactly, this piece was probably the least successful of the evening, and most likely due to a lack of rehearsal time. But soprano Rebecca Tomlinson sang beautifully. Her voice has a rich, full timbre that is quite pleasant on the ears, and seems able to sing a wide variety of styles. And while the German text was clear and her diction good, it wasn’t evident that there was any meaning behind what she sang. Frauentanz is seldom heard live, and one must assume the audience has little understanding of the work, so it requires an extra effort to make us fall in love upon first hearing.

Following the Weill was American composer, Paul Schoenfield’s Café Music, featuring violinist Dongfang Ouyang, cellist Dane Little, and pianist Milena Gligic. For only three musicians, it was amazing how much sound they produced and how they commanded attention. The piece felt like a conversation between Irving Berlin and Maurice Ravel, where you couldn’t take your eyes off the players for fear of missing a beat. It wasn’t exactly the kind of music you could listen to casually while having a meal, as Schoenfield intended, but it would definitely bring the clientèle back for more.

Next on the program was the more well-known Franz Schubert work Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) and featured, again, Ms. Tomlinson, clarinettist Stuart Clark, and Ms. Gligic at the piano. As the piece is over ten minutes long and requires a lot of difficult singing, it is not programmed as often as one might like. It was a treat to hear, though again, Ms. Tomlinson did not seem to have the piece fully developed in her voice. The coloratura section was a little slippery, and breath choices were not carefully planned.

The final piece on the program was Piano Trio #1 in D minor by Russian composer Anton Arensky, and by far, the favorite of the night. The trio formed by violinist Roberto Cani, cellist John Walz, and pianist Inna Faliks, successfully presented a rare work and made the audience fall to pieces. The melodies were romantic and sultry, and the trio was so thoroughly connected to the music that one couldn’t help but smile. Mr. Walz was mesmerizing to watch as he played with as much passion as seemed humanly possible. Ms. Faliks was the ideal pianist exuding charm, energy, and precision. Mr. Cani had remarkable tone and musicality.

Such a successful evening of stunning music and musicianship needs to be repeated. Pittance Chamber Music is a brilliant endeavor that deserves praise, attention, and funding. It is only with great anticipation that we hope to see and hear more in the future.

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