Chamber Music/LA, a recent, ad hoc offshoot of the Sitka Festival, made its first winter appearance on Sunday afternoon at the Japan America Theatre. The program was dedicated to the late cellist Gabor Rejto, and a more glorious memorial would be hard to imagine.
The central item on the compact agenda was the world premiere of Henri Lazarof's Octet for Strings, "La Laurenziana." It is a major work in every respect, three dramatic, clearly shaped movements running almost 20 minutes.
The emphasis is on texture and sonority, generated through motivic developments rather than pure sound masses. The part-writing ranges from fiercely independent frenzy to bold, intense unisons, in an angular, freely dissonant idiom that proves also amenable to moments of affecting, almost neo-modal tenderness.
The subtitle refers to the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence, which inspired the work. There is nothing programmatic in the music, the composer avows, but there is a sense of nostalgic yearning to it, as well as majesty and great seriousness.
As conducted by the composer, "La Laurenziana" proved a gripping, vital experience. Lazarof elicited well-balanced precision and imposing sound from the Chamber Music/LA octet, six prominent locally based musicians, plus English violist Paul Silverthorne and Dutch cellist Godfried Hoogeveen.
After intermission, violinist Yukiko Kamei--the Chamber Music/LA founder and director--joined Hoogeveen and pianist Doris Stevenson in Schubert's Piano Trio in B-flat. Theirs was grandly passionate, intimately lyrical Schubert. Their ensemble was predicated on the integration of individual character--Stevenson steadying the more impulsive strings--rather than bland uniformity, in alert, rich-sounding playing, wonderfully responsive to each other and to the protean demands of the score.
The afternoon began with Mozart's Quintet in D, K. 593, performed by violinists Yoko Matsuda and Miwako Watanabe, violists Milton Thomas and Silverthorne and cellist David Speltz. Their reading emerged bright, vigorous and clear--inclined to rush a bit, but impetuously, not frantically. They also stressed the independence of individual lines within a cohesive ensemble, serving Mozart with both grace and urgency.