From the smattering of applause at the concert’s end, I deduced that a few audience members were on hand to take in the performance, but certainly not the 100-plus that are usually shoe-horned into the venue for a vintage Camarada concert.
Friday’s repertory, however, was vintage Camarada: earnest but engaging contemporary works played with flair and conviction by nine of the company’s accomplished musicians. Several of the players have been with Camarada since flutist Beth Ross Buckley formed the group in 1994, and their dependable, adroit ensemble continues to confirm her astute selection.
Works that stood out on Friday’s concert were Miguel del Aguila’s “Conga-Line in Hell” and “Tango to Dream,” as well as two commissions by Andrés Martin: “Flor de Liz” and “Unstoppable—On Fire.”
We expect the Uruguayan-born del Aguila to serve up a tango with ease, but his sextet “Tango to Dream” is more than a cute Astor Piazzolla tango confection. Opening with hushed, unsettling rumbles and tremolos, “Tango to Dream” suggests an eerie, half-conscious state in which tentative themes hover, waiting their summons to the dance. After an aptly haunting bassoon cadenza from Leyla Zamora, the tango rhythm ostinato slowly gathers momentum and explodes into an impressive, densely layered minor-mode tango. The coda reverts to the mysterious opening mood with pianist Dana Burnett gently brushing glissandos from the piano strings while Zamora and violist Travis Maril deftly tapered their final themes into the ether.
“Conga-Line from Hell,” arranged by Burnett for this Camarada ensemble of four strings, three winds, percussion and piano, suggests that the sulfureous fumes of hell can inspire a saucy dance that turns into a raucous street festival. Burnett distributed del Aguila’s angular, driving rhythmic figures equally among the players, although trumpeter Jeff Nevin, flutist Beth Ross Buckley, and percussion maestro Matthew Armstrong displayed the most flamboyant flourishes.
Martin’s “Flor de Liz” for flute, bassoon, and piano displays a sophisticated, tonal contrapuntal texture similar to del Aguila’s, bristling with extroverted themes and hints of the traditional music of Latin America. A native of Buenos Aires who resides in Tijuana, where he plays with the Orquestra de Baja California, Martin writes idiomatically for each instrument, as his “Unstoppable” duo for flute and violin that opened this program amply demonstrated.
Manuel Ponce, a Mexican composer from the first half of the last century, deserves to be known for more than his popular classical guitar solos. Camarada’s polished account of his “Petite Suite dans le Style Ancien” for string trio made an impressive case for Ponce’s sparkling neoclassical dance suite composed when he flourished in Paris during the roaring twenties. I especially enjoyed the fugal final movement, a tribute to J. S. Bach based on one of his themes.
American composer James Stephenson’s “The Mermaid of the Volcano,” a mesmerizing incantation for trumpet, cello, and malleted percussion, was pleasantly dominated by Nevin’s smoothly articulated trumpet lines that suggested the mellow color of the flugelhorn.
This Camarada program was recorded at Bread and Salt in San Diego’s Barrio Logan on November 1, 2020, and was released online on November 6. It will be available for a limited time through Camarada’s web page.