Musica De Camera String Ensemble
Christian Colberg – conductor
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
January 17, 2008
Originally posted in New York Concert Review
The January 17th Musica de Camera concert was one of the best in memory; every work on this well-balanced program was top tier, stylistically different, and highlighted with superb performances. St. Patrick’s glorious Cathedral can be painfully echo-filled but my seat close to the stage gave me some sonic clarity. The conductor was the very efficient and talented Christian Colberg. I heard through the grapevine that the ensemble had only two rehearsals, and I was amazed because they played with such polish, spirit and stylistic unity. For one, Colberg conducted with a clear downbeat that never delayed, and this precision led to extremely tight, pulsating ensemble-work. Additionally, the program was imaginative and challenging, yet tailored to this group’s strengths.
Colberg also had insight into each style: Telemann’s “Don Quichotte” was Baroque-clean, but was played with exaggeration of its inventive effects, which gave this pioneering work the sense of adventure it needed. Grieg’s Holberg Suite is a great choice because of its similarity to the structure of the Baroque world, but also its great Romantic contrast. The boomy acoustics of the cathedral enhanced the sound to the point where the ensemble of just 14 sounded like a full string orchestra in the Air movement, the work’s most emotional. Only the two violas sounded thin, as the section should have had one more player to match the three cellos and bass on the bottom. The last movement’s solo viola played by Samuel Marchan – while extremely energetic – was sometimes distant or out-of-sync with the admirable violin solos of Maria Conti.
The two major soloists were well contrasted: vocal classical and contemporary guitar. Eva De La O, the energetic organizer behind these concerts proved that she is also a talented singer. In Haydn’s “With Verdure Clad” from “The Creation,” she sang with clear diction throughout, musically thoughtful ideas and lovely peaks. Only a few notes were on the dry side, and resolutions after suspensions were sometimes unclear. Guitarist Jorge Caballero was as cool as Ms. O was charming. And his approach worked for Leo Brouwer’s hypnotic, sometimes minimalistic-like Concierto Elegiaco. Caballero’s no-nonsense manner created a smart pace with riveting tension, and he handled the virtuosity with innate ease. The concert concluded with a stylistic hallmark of De Camera: music from Puerto Rico. Simon Madera’s spirited “Mis Amores” was played with the requisite “danza” tempo and character.