Monday, April 4, 2016

Chamber Music Catch Up

Charlene Baldridge
Photo by Ken Howard
Playing Catch Up

Finishing off, in the written word, what’s left on the desk and in the seldom mind is  largely an impossible task when one is 82, as a rule procrastinates, and can no longer read, and/or never could read, copious notes written on top of themselves in a darkened venue.

Other matters that distracted the superannuated writer subsequent to the Art of Élan concert of March 29 are too mundane to mention, but I will anyway  – more of the usual – there were theatrical events I was assigned to write for publication (they had deadlines and pay) and a Mainly Mozart Spotlight Series concert Saturday, May 2, which I shall endeavor to discuss here; that is if I can decipher indecipherable notes and bring up what remains in my memory.

The other distraction (read excuse), which thoroughly consumed me, was getting acquainted with my first iPhone. (This was very complicated, believe me, and the fallout continues, affecting other devices as well as my mental stamina. There are still extant mysteries and malfunctions.) 
Cynthia Phelps

Daniel Phillips
Mainly Mozart Spotlight Series

Ronald Thomas
Saturday, Apr, 3 at The Auditorium of TSRI, La Jolla, Mainly Mozart  presented a delightful program curated by Anne-Marie McDermott. It revolved mostly around the flutist Tara Helen O’Connor, whose collaborators were Daniel Phillips, violin; Cynthia Phelps, viola; and Ronald Thomas, cello. Certainly a sterling group, they played brilliantly in various supportive capacities and combinations. Most of the evening, that is, and especially in the opening Mozart, Flute Quartet No. 3, which was sunny, stately and sweet by turns and especially playful in the andantino section’s theme and variations. As before O’Connor proved herself eminently listenable, with a luscious tone, impeccable phrasing and seemingly effortless breath control. Nothing could be finer than Mozart on a warm spring evening, played to a capacity audience in an acoustically fine auditorium.

Tara Helen O'Connor
O’Connor followed up with Debussy’s all-too-brief Srynx. Then she and Phelps splendidly assayed François Devienne’s Duo for Flute and Viola. Devienne (1759-1803) was a flutist, bassoonist and composer known at the time as “the Mozart of the Flute.” His green-gowned interpreters were like two mezzo sopranos singing Norma and all the cherry duets of eternity, competing, exalting, and creating luscious melody to savor, at times trading fervently ferocious lines. Their spirit of fun and collegiality was palpable.

The program closed with a performance of Beethoven’s String Trio in G Major, which was flawed by faulty violin and cello intonation that quite discomfited the listener. Between-movement tuning did not alleviate the problem, one that might be attributed to numerous things including jet lag or illness. One wishes the gentlemen well.

The next and final 2016 Spotlight Series performance at TSRI takes place at 7:30 pm Saturday, April 30 and features Steven Copes, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang, viola; Peter Wiley, cello; David Shifrin clarinet; and David Jolley, horn, in performance of Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio in B-Flat Major and Dohnanyi’s Sextet in C Major.

Art of Élan

The Formosa Quartet in the gallery
at San Diego Museum of Art
William Zauscher Photo courtesy Art of Elan

March 29 at San Diego Museum of Art, Art of Élan presented one of its excellently played and well thought out performances, this one titled “Song Recollections.” There was not a sung song on the program, but the selections were lyrical and song like nonetheless. Like the Mainly Mozart program later in the week the program also featured the flute, this time Rose Lombardo, who’s been principal flutist with San Diego Symphony since 2012. Her collaborators were the youthful and wondrous Formosa Quartet.

The program began with Dana Wilson’s Hungarian Folk Songs, commissioned and premiered by the Formosa Quartet in 2008 (There is a recording). The work comprises eight songs, rife with grace, zeal, flirtatiousness, and joy; add a bit of ponderousness, too, appropriately in the Porondos section, and culminating in The Bear Dance, which begins very somberly in the low voices of the viola and cello and ends with full-throated broad strokes. Quite and interesting and enjoyable work.

Then Quartet members Wayne Lee (violin), Che-Yen Chen (viola) and Deborah Pae (guest cellist) were joined by Lombardo in performance of Aaron Copland’s Threnodies, written in memoriam of Igor Stravinsky and Beatrice Cunningham. This prefaced the world premiere of Lei Liang’s Song Recollections, for which the entire program was named. The work was commissioned by Art of Élan for the Formosa Quartet and will be heard again April 20 at UCSD.

Lei Liang is a Chinese-born American composer who is currently professor of music and acting chair of the music department at UCSD. He writes that Song Recollections “is based on the folk music of Taiwanese aboriginal tribes which has fascinated me ever since my friends from Taiwan introduced it to me.”

The concert hall was filled to capacity and all present gave accolades to Mr. Liang, who was in the audience for this auspicious premiere.

Coming up for Art of Élan is the season finale – a program titled “By & By” that takes place at 7 pm Tuesday, May 17 at San Diego Museum of Art. Make plans to attend and purchase tickets now. These popular concerts always sell to capacity.

Now that the iPhone is pretty much mastered (Ha!) I promise to do a better job at reportage.

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