MUSIC REVIEW : An Upbeat Chamber Opener


The Pacific Symphony opened its second season of chamber music concerts at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art on Friday. And the results were largely happy. (A repeat performance was scheduled for Sunday afternoon).

One work--Hindemith’s 1939 Sonata for Clarinet--was played in the narrow, bright, airy and vaulted downstairs Freedman Gallery, in which a series of helpful acoustical baffling panels hung in a line down the ceiling.

The 85 attendees at the sold-out performance heard the remaining three works in the upstairs California Room, notable for its heavily paneled wooden ceiling decorated with WPA-type murals in pastel colors and for its glass-encased wall exhibits of World War I and other historical memorabilia.

The musicians included clarinetist James Kanter, violinist Sheryl Staples, cellist Timothy Landauer, and pianists John Novacek and Bright Sheng.


Kanter and Landauer are principals in the orchestra. Staples, known for her work as concertmaster of the Japan America Symphony, has been one of the guest concertmasters with the full orchestra this season as it seeks to fill the position left vacant last summer by Endre Granat.

Novacek, who studied with the late Jakob Gimpel, is a local young luminary and competition winner.

Sheng played only in his own Four Movements for Piano Trio, an ingratiating series of short impressionistic scenes incorporating original or parodistic Chinese folk tunes and traditional instrumental techniques, all capped by a sparsely textured lament.

Staples distinguished herself with the seeming ease and mellowness she brought to her formidable duties in Stravinsky’s own 1919 arrangement of five movements from his “L’Histoire du Soldat”, for violin, clarinet and piano.


Kanter proved again he is incapable of anything less than masterly playing, whether in exploiting the various ranges of the instrument for Stravinsky or the dynamic and melodic challenges in the appealing Hindemith Sonata, despite a glitch with a reed.

Unfortunately, what should have been the emotional peak of the program, Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1, turned out to be an oil-and-water affair. Novacek’s brilliant but cold pianism suited neither the music nor Staples’ and, especially, Landauer’s expressivity.

The next and final pair of programs in the short chamber series at the Bowers will take place on May 13 and 15.