The La Jolla Music Society's Summerfest continued with 'Fantastic Tales', a concert with an unusual mix of two familiar Romantic era pieces by Schumann and two more recent works, including one by this year's Summerfest composer-in-residence Thomas Adès, a prolific and much-in-demand British composer, pianist and conductor.
All four compositions were performed with passionately impressive musicianship. Cellist Efe Baltacigil and pianist Roman Rabinovich opened with Schumann's Fantasiestucke (fantasy pieces). In three movements, it progresses from romantically melancholy to playfully energetic, and then concludes in exuberant triumph. Baltacigil's warm tone and light vibrato were especially appealing, and the smile on his face as the pair tore through the closing pages matched my own. The duo mastered every emotion in synchronous agreement.
Thomas Adès' Märchentänze (dances from fairytale), a work composed last year, followed with the composer at the piano and violinist Anthony Marwood. Marwood impressed with his execution of the composition's demanding virtuosic effects. As a composer Adès is unpredictable, his eclectic style ranging from lyrically straightforward to wildly demanding of both performer and listener. In program notes he said the first movement is 'a fantasy based on the folk song "Two Magicians" immortalized by Steeleye Span', a British folk rock group popular half a century ago. (Did I mention 'eclectic'?) The fantasy's first movement reminds me of an Irish jig that might have come from The Chieftains. It probably reminds Marwood of the years of practice it took to achieve the skill needed for the double stops, high-register effects and rapid pizzicatos called for. The second movement switches to almost lilting, and the last is meant to recall the song of a skylark, but as a wild dance rather than the gentle idyllic flight of Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending. As in the preceding Schumann, the duo blended beautifully as equal partners.
In an interview before the concert Adès said that Janáček's Concertino for Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Two Violins, Viola, and Piano is 'as close as that composer came to writing a piano concerto'. And, in the spirit of a concerto, Adès played with commanding authority, the piano prominent from beginning to end.
The piece, written a century ago, seems ahead of its time in textures and unexpected melodic jumps, especially if you're not familiar with the composer's description of what he had in mind. Far from the other septets of classical and romantic composers, the first movement is for horn and piano, the piano in the role of the composer's memory of blocking a 'grumpy hedgehog', the second movement depicts a 'fidgety squirrel', the third paints an atmospheric scene with a 'night owl and other night animals', and the last movement 'a fairy-tale, where everybody is arguing'.
We begin with a duet for piano and horn (Stefan Dohr), the quick moving, firm piano blocking the grumpy hedgehog from its lair. Dohr nailed every difficult sudden horn entry in frustrated responses to the piano's quick reactions. The second part is a duet for piano and clarinet. Clark Simpson used a high-pitched clarinet (one of three he played) in response to the piano as the squirrel chitters while jumping from tree to tree, then screams in outrage as it's trapped in a cage. In a surprise, the strings, bassoon (Eleni Katz) and horn join to make a forest crowd for the last few seconds of the movement. All remain for a spooky third with highlights of owls and a thundering piano cadenza. All join in as nearly equal partners with the piano in the finale, diverse opinions popping up until the argument ends with a few abrupt final notes.
Schumann's wonderfully melodic and exciting piano quintet in E-flat major completed the program in a performance which couldn't have been bettered by groups that have performed together for decades. Violinists Erin Keefe and Alexi Kenney, cellist Efe Baltacigil, violist Masumi Per Rostad and pianist Roman Rabinovich displayed rich tonal qualities in gorgeously romantic melodies and brilliant technique, especially at the exciting speed they chose for the final movement, the close of a satisfying concert with a delightfully unusual mix of compositions, timbres and textures.
Copyright © 7 August 2023
San Diego, USA