The married cello duo of Anthony Ross and Beth Rapier displayed their remarkable musicianship throughout Saturday night’s second program of the 2017 Cactus Pear Music Festival.
Ross and Rapier, who head the Minnesota Orchestra’s cello section, started the concert with a series of mixed-genre duets — arrangements of arias from Mozart operas “Don Giovanni” and “La clemenza di Tito,” Egbert Gismonti’s “Agua e Vinho,” a piece titled “Carinhoso” by Alfredo da Rocha Viana Jr. (also known as “Pixinguinha”) and Mark Summer’s jazzy “Julie-O.”
Of those two-cello duets, the most pleasing was Rapier’s arrangement of Gismonti’s “Agua e Vinho,” which was at once seductive, hypnotic, mystical and wistful.
The trio is, in effect, an elegy for the composer’s daughter, who had died at age 4 from scarlet fever. A theme representing the daughter was introduced in the first movement by Ross. The theme alternated with passages expressing grief throughout the rest of the piece.
Brave music in the midst of sadness filled the second-movement scherzo. The final movement opened with a gallop that tries to outrace death, which then transitioned to a life-affirming message based on the daughter’s theme. The three players presented a nuanced, heartfelt reading.
Ross and Rapier also were the cellists for concert’s final piece, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s String Sextet. They were joined by Sant’Ambrogio, violinist Dmitri Pogorelov and violists Mark Holloway and David Harding.
A highlight was Rimsky-Korsakov’s six-part fugue in the second movement, which was both clever and appealing. The fourth-movement andante was touching, leading into the upbeat and happy finale. Ensemble among the six players was polished and precise.
About 400 people attended the Saturday night concert at Concordia Lutheran Church, the festival’s new venue. This sophisticated, absorbing program repeats at 3 p.m. Sunday at Boerne’s First United Methodist Church, 205 James St.
The festival’s second half next weekend will feature works by composers Mozart, Britten, Dvorák and Villa-Lobos.