Art’s Corner: August 21, 2014

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This season’s Chamberfest at Idyllwild Arts came to a conclusion this past week with two spectacular presentations, one more stunning than the other; although from this listener’s point of view, it was difficult to determine which was the better of the two events.

Certainly, last Thursday evening’s chamber program provided three solid masterpieces in the standard repertoire for the members of the Pacific Trio and associated players, while Saturday evening’s orchestral offerings proved more than just a glorified dress rehearsal for the youth orchestra’s talents on display in UCLA’s Royce Hall the following afternoon.

To begin with the chamber works, the first half of Thursday’s program proved the talents of Pacific Trio’s pianist Edith Orloff, both as an energetic accompanist (in the Brahms “C Minor Trio”) and as distinguished a solo performer as is possible in a group setting (the piano part of Mozart’s “G Minor Piano Quartet” being written almost as a solo keyboard piece with accompanying strings).

It was in the outer movements of this work and the opening movement of the Brahms that Orloff’s dynamism was in full evidence, but never to the detriment of her companion players, who availed themselves equally well-determined to put their material to the fore. Following the intermission, Schubert’s “C Major String Quintet” magnificently demonstrated both proper string tone and ensemble playing. Once again, principally in the outer two movements, but the remaining slow movement and scherzo proved unanimity of requisite tonal quality (a hushed reverence in the former and a contrasting charge and respite in the latter). That masterwork was accorded the most enthusiastic audience response of the evening, and all players assembled on Stephens Recital Hall’s small stage to receive well-deserved kudos for their efforts.

Saturday evening in the IAF Theater, youthful talent was in force in many ways, not only in the complement of 70-plus performers on stage, but also with two of the sub-conductors on the program, both proteges of principal conductor and pedagogue Larry Livingston.

The first of these, Conductor Sey Ahn, availed herself majestically in leading two of the dance pieces (the “Polonaise” and “Waltz”) from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” never once forgetting the original operatic context as well as the rhythmic motivation for both of them. Mendelssohn’s “Fingal’s Cave Overture” received an equally motivic performance guided by the second sub-conductor, trumpeter Joshua Roach, proving that piece’s contrasting wind and sea moods throughout, and underscoring the subsidiary themes in addition to the principal motive.

But in the next piece — Max Bruch’s “Kol Nidrei” for solo cello and orchestra — Livingston’s conducting prowess was allowed to shine in equal partnership with soloist John Walz in the two principal themes. This performance was also notable for the ability to hear the small but nonetheless significant harp part (more than ably provided by Emma Dyson), complementing Walz’s solo as well as the lower orchestral accompaniment.

The final portion of the program featured a complete performance of Beethoven’s “Fourth Symphony” (including all of the first movement’s repeats), once again under Livingston’s able direction. In all four movements, one could discern this piece’s place in the historical development of symphonic music, derived from the composer’s previous heroics (the Second and Third symphonies) and looking ahead to his later accomplishments in his so-called “middle period” (the more placid portions of his Fifth and Sixth symphonies, not to mention the opera “Fidelio”). The overall importance of orchestral string playing, with emphasis on proper dynamics and punctuation, was admirably demonstrated, again principally in the outer movements (where extremely necessary, given the first movement’s contrasting sections and the almost perpetual motion of the strings of the finale). The accompanying wind and brass sections also availed themselves very well throughout, and the final chords were hailed with the tumultuous audience applause the whole work, and indeed the whole concert, deserved.

To summarize then, the success of Idyllwild Arts’ Summer Program series is for the present assured, both in the context of well-chosen faculty members and well-selected students of the musical arts. One looks forward to the next concert presentation by either of these distinguished groups of equally forward-looking persons.

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