The Cavatina Duo takes its name from a musical form characterized by simple song – one with a beautiful melody that goes down easily. But there was nothing "cavatina" about the duo's concert Saturday evening. From the minute that Denis Azabagic (guitar) and Eugenia Moliner (flute) walked onstage, they brought a rich and complex presence for the audience to chew on.
The performance was equal parts intensity and grace – often taking sharp turns in a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Before they played Adios Nonino – written by Astor Piazzolla after his father's death – Moliner recounted the pain of losing her own father and confessed that finishing the piece is still challenging. These comments were sincere and moving. But in a quick pivot, she joked that the piece was "for all of the fathers," but especially hers because she was the one playing. She then returned to the serious mood for a soulful and vulnerable performance, squeezing the juice out of the sensuous phrases.
The eclectic program ranged from a sonata by J.S. Bach to a world premiere commissioned from Austin Classical Guitar's composer-in-residence, Joseph V. Williams II. In the latter piece, Isabel, written in memory of a young woman who died tragically during the Spanish Inquisition, Williams incorporated music from a traditional Sephardic song to shape a powerfully evocative work. In Clarice Assad's Three Balkan Pieces, quirky folk rhythms and extended techniques took the audience on a whirlwind tour of Eastern Europe. The exotic sonic world of Alan Thomas' Out of Africa for solo guitar came to life through Azabagic's magnetic concentration and the extended clicking and hitting percussion techniques he employed. Moliner, too, had ample opportunity to flaunt her virtuosity, in two rapid-fire showpieces based on opera themes and variations.
The married musicians – one of three power couples performing at this year's Austin Chamber Music Festival – alluded to what we can only imagine is a fiery rehearsal dynamic through their comic shtick, bantering about who should have the microphone and which details of the other's commentary were important. Throughout the concert, Moliner feigned impatience at Azabagic's slow and careful guitar tuning by tsking, putting her hand on her hips, and rolling her eyes – a slapstick act that kept the audience laughing. Chamber music rehearsals are often delicate acts of diplomacy, in which the musicians, after pouring all of their musical ideas into a pot, must sort through the inevitable artistic disagreements – often measure by measure, even note by note. Figuring out how to negotiate these differences is a careful and sensitive dance that must be even more complicated by Moliner and Azabagic's personal relationship. While I'm tempted to view their chamber music aplomb as a natural extension of their shared life, that wouldn't grant them due credit. These musicians clearly grappled with the emotional and intellectual challenges of the music on its own terms.
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