Camarada Brings Concert of French Impressionist Composers to Balboa Park’s Museum of Photographic Arts

It is no small irony that the two composers most frequently identified with the musical style universally called Impressionism—Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel—each detested this categorization of their music. Yet from musical scholars to the most casual audiophile, the aesthetic link between the paintings of Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and their cohorts and the music of Debussy and those who following in his footsteps is too obvious to deny.

Beth Ross Buckley [photo courtesy of Camarada]

Camarada, the San Diego collective of professional musicians celebrating its 25th season, presented a chamber concert of Impressionist works Sunday at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. Camarada Executive Director Beth Ross Buckley assembled a quintet of players—flute, harp, and string trio—that proved unusually amenable to this French music from the first half of the last century.

Her four compositions appeared on the program in chronological order, starting with Debussy’s 1915 Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. Three works for Camarada’s full quintet followed: Albert Russel’s 1925 “Sérénade,” Marcel Tournier’s 1929 Suite, and André Jolivet’s 1944 “Chant de Linos” completed the program.

Like Debussy’s familiar piano pieces titled “Arabesque,” his 1915 Sonata exudes flowing ostinatos from each of the instruments. Harpist Elena Mashkovtseva’s fluid arpeggios supplied the delicate, transparent texture; flutist Ross Buckley’s rich, colorful melodic effusions gave assertive direction, and Travis Maril’s mellow viola lines mediated between these two vital musical streams. I particularly liked the modal character of the middle movement themes that contrasted with the more clearly tonal outer movements.

Although the quintet played only the short Presto movement of Russel’s 1925 “Sérénade,” we were able to enjoy the playful combat of flutist Ross Buckely and violinist David Buckley in their highest registers, and soulful sighs from violist Maril in the movement’s more relaxed center section.

Marcel Tournier was a virtuoso harpist, so it came as no surprise to hear Mashkovtseva’s surging glissandos drive—but not overpower—the faster sections of his 1929 Suite. In his slow movement, Lied, cellist Abe Liebhaber communicated the composer’s heartfelt sense of longing, a parallel emotion we heard in David Buckley’s wistful violin lines in the opening movement, titled Soir (Evening). I confess I do not recall having heard Tournier’s music before this concert, but I would happily explore more of his catalogue.

Jolivet originally wrote his 1944 “Chant de Linos” as a flute test piece with piano accompaniment for an annual instrumental competition. Because it was so well received, he quickly arranged this single movement work for flute, harp, and string trio. Jolivet skillfully balanced technical display for the solo flute with musical substance—not always the case with many a flashy competition piece—and “Chant de Linos” brought Camarada’s program to a satisfying close.

For presenting a chamber concert in the Museum of Photographic Arts’ Murray and Elaine Galison Installation Place for the first time, I found the setting and acoustics most favorable. The room’s high ceiling and hard surfaces no doubt contributed to its success as a musical venue.

This concert was presented by Camarada on Sunday, November 17, 2019, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego’s Balboa Park. The next Camarada program slated for this venue will take place on February 2, 2020.

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