Review: Cactus Pear Music Festival mixes cultures in second-week concert
A program as varied from a Russian fantasy to African-American spirituals was presented Friday night as the Cactus Pear Music Festival continued its second weekend in San Antonio on Friday.
San Antonio Symphony principal clarinet Ilya Shterenberg, festival founder and violinist Stephanie Sant’Ambrogio and pianist Ryo Yanagitani teamed up for the trio version of Igor Strvinsky’s “L’Historie du Soldat,” or “The Soldier’s Tale,” to cap off the unusual concert.
Shterenberg’s high-spirited clarinet combined with amazing bow work by Sant’Ambrogio to relate the raspy soul-selling-to-the-devil story in an intricate, compelling fashion that was more intimate than the larger ensemble employed by the original percussion version.
The star of the evening, though, was baritone Timothy Jones, a San Antonio audience favorite, who appeared in both halves of the concert, first with five selections from Ludwig van Beethoven’s rarely performed “Scottish Songs,” Op. 108. The songs’ moods ranged from happiness and sadness to playfulness, with a drinking song thrown in and one that seemed like a sailor’s song. Jones’ smiling, sly stage presence and facial expressions doubled the effectiveness of the lyrics. He was accompanied by Sant’Ambrogio, cellist Beth Rapier and Yanagitani.
Jones and Rapier reappeared on stage in the second half for three selections from “Five African American Spirituals” by James Scott Balentine, who composed the arrangements in 1997 for Jones and who was in the audience Friday. Jones sang the spirituals, including “Go Down Moses,” with sermonlike seriousness and urgency.
The program began with an elegant appetizer, Tommaso Giordani’s Trio, Op. 12, No. 3, featuring flutist Stephanie Jutt. Jean Sibelius’ Suite in A Major, a student piece by the composer, followed, displaying the early signs of Sibelius’ gift for composing inner-life thoughts with simple depths of expression. Performing were Sant’Ambrogio, violinist Carol Cook and cellist Anthony Ross.
A second-half highlight was Paul Schoenfield’s “Three Bagatelles” from 2006 in which Yanagitani’s sparkling, cascading piano lines underscored three concurrent melodies in the first bagatelle. The third vigorous bagatelle sounded like a frantic dog chasing its tail, pleasing the audience of about 350 people with its humor.
The evening’s intermission period presented eight members of the festival’s Young Artist Program in a performance of Juan Pablo Contreras’ “Son Jarocho” (”The Sound of Veracruz”). The music was atmospheric, invoking street life in the historic Mexican port city. Contreras is the festival’s composer-in-residence.
The festival continues at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Concordia Lutheran Church with a final program, titled “Pueblos Mágicos.” Before that, at 3 p.m., is a free concert by the student ensemble, also at the church.