The Overture to Richard Strauss' final opera, "Capriccio," is a string sextet being performed for the opera's characters in the setting of an elegant salon. The chamber ensemble Accordo opened their third season with it on Monday evening, in their new home at Christ Church Lutheran in south Minneapolis. The setting might not be as plush as a salon, but it was certainly acoustically resplendent.
The clean, mid-century modernist architecture, by esteemed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, is on the National Historic Registry. The striking blending of light brick and blonde wood projects a bright sound of ringing clarity, but with enough reverberation to perfectly complement Strauss' grand Romantic score.
The quintet is made up of St. Paul Chamber Orchestra violinists Steven Copes and Ruggero Allifranchini, violist Maiya Papach and cellist Ronald Thomas, along with Minnesota Orchestra cellist Anthony Ross and guest artist Minnesota Orchestra violist Rebecca Albers. The six instrumentalists produced a rich, resonant sound, but were also capable of moments of refined delicacy.
The centerpiece of the program was Arnold Schoenberg's tone poem "Verklärte Nacht" ("Transfigured Night"). This late Romantic composition came before his conversion to 12-tone music.
Written in 1899, this is Schoenberg's Opus 4, a work of his youth. The poem on which it's based, by Richard Dahmer, is also a work of youthful sentimentality. In the first part, a woman confesses that the child she's carrying is not her lover's. In the second, he forgives her, and the night is transfigured. Though Schoenberg later disparaged the work's programmatic associations, the tone poem is very clear in its drama. Albers' viola gave plaintive voice to the woman's grief. And Copes effectively conveyed the transformative power of the lover's absolution. The intense melodies and complex chromatic harmonies created a passionate piece of musical storytelling.
The concert concluded with a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence." The title comes from the fact that he wrote one of the principal themes while visiting Italy, but the work is distinctly Russian-sounding in its use of folk melodies. Allifranchini took full advantage of the lead violin part.
Accordo's third season is off to a great start. With luck, Christ Church Lutheran will be it's home for many seasons to come.