SummerFest 2023 Continues with a Dozen Miniatures that Chart the Cycle of Dawn to Nightfall

Like Friday’s Opening Night La Jolla SummerFest concert, Saturday’s concert sported a programmatic theme: a dozen works that described or were inspired by the daily cycle: sunrise to noon; noon to night, and night. And for the chaser to this catalogue of short, impressionist vignettes: Mozart’s Quintet in C Minor, K. 406.

Sasha Cooke, mezzo soprano [photo (c.) Ken Jacques]

In the completely darkened room, Blake Pouliot started “L’Aurore” (Dawn) from Eugène Ysaÿe’s G Major Violin Sonata, Op. 27, No. 5, and as its hushed, slender melodic strands slowly expanded into effulgent, excited themes, the lights of Baker-Baum Concert hall slowly came up. Pouliot’s bracing performance was so compelling, I hope the La Jolla Music Society will bring him back in season to play the entire Ysaÿe Solo Sonata!

Two additional morning-themed offerings followed. Mel Bonis’ “Matin” (Morning) from her Piano Trio, Op. 76, provided a charming pastel portrait of cascading themes, deftly executed by pianist Roman Rabinovich and complemented by a lovely cantabile violin melody crafted by Erin Keefe. Lili Boulanger’s more agitated “D’un matin de printemps” (About a Morning in Spring) for the same instrumentation gave a more rhapsodic account of morning in an idiom with more evident ties to Impressionism that the Bonis “Matin.”

A scintillating ensemble conjured the bristling midday breezes of Haydn’s “Finale” from his Symphony No. 7, Le midi (Noon). Pouliot led the well-disciplined ensemble from the first violin position, and flutist Rose Lombardo turned out florid, radiant themes that easily filled the Baker-Baum Concert Hall with the composer’s exultation of the midday .

Given the program’s overall theme, it would be difficult to overlook Debussy’s evergreen “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun,” and Graeme Steele Johnson’s arrangement of the orchestral work for flute, clarinet, harp, and string quartet was perfectly proportioned for Baker-Baum. Lombardo continued her translucent thematic magic matched by equally buoyant melodies from suave clarinetist Anton Rist and shimmering arpeggios from harpist Julie Smith Philips.

Jaoquín Turina’s “Crépuscule du soir” (Evening Twilight) from his Opus 7 is really a concise rhapsody for viola and piano with subdued string quartet accompaniment. Violist Masumi Per Rostad’s dark, smoldering viola timbre and suggestive phrasing added to Rabinovich’s sensual chords drawn from the Steinway created the illusion of passionate Iberian romance. Ernest Chausson’s song “Chanson perpétuelle,” however, recounts the despair of a failed romance framed in elegant poetry by Charles Cros and set in Chausson’s sumptuous late-Romantic idiom. Sasha Cooke’s bright, clear mezzo-soprano and her supple declamation superbly communicated the song’s poignant despair. Cooke also gave an affecting interpretation of Richard Strauss’ lied “Morgen!” Each song was deftly accompanied by a string ensemble.

For the program’s Night section, Debussy’s “Claire de lune” (Moonlight) was no doubt an obvious choice. Inon Barnatan gave a serene account of the original piano score at the Steinway with strings and harp gently expanding the composer’s texture—this performance proved effective because of its unexpected understatement.

Rose Lombardo and cellist Oliver Herbert gave a lithe, effervescent interpretation of contemporary French composer Guillaume Connesson’s concise “Toccata-Nocturne” for Flute and Cello, a piece whose piquant, angular themes fulfilled its billing as a toccata.

In his comments about Franz Schubert’s Adagio in E-flat Major, D. 897 Notturno, program annotator Eric Bromberger suggested that the composer rejected this movement for inclusion in his Piano Trio in B-flat Major, D. 898. Schubert never published this orphan piece, and after hearing Saturday’s thoughtful performance of Notturno, I can only say that Schubert wisely kept this bland exercise out of his publisher’s hands. What is the point of second-guessing the composer?

George Crumb’s “Midnight Transformation,” the short final movement from his Eine Kleine Mitternacht Musik (A Little Midnight Music), is a delicate miniature for prepared piano based on Thelonius Monk’s signature tune “‘Round Midnight.” Mysterious, delicate chords played from the keyboard and strummed from within the piano created a diaphanous buzz.

(l. to r.) Erin Keefe, Steven Copes, Oliver Herbert, Maiya Papach & Rebecca Albers [photo (c.) Ken Jacques]

After intermission the stage was cleared for the five string players to present their muscular account of Mozart’s C Minor String Quintet, K. 406. Violinists Erin Keefe and Steven Copes provided adroit, well-balanced dramatic leadership, and the warmth of violists Rebecca Albers and Maiya Papach created an unusually ingratiating sonority. Cellist Oliver Herbert centered the quintet with his unrelenting eloquent phrasing.

This concert was presented by the La Jolla Music Society on Saturday, July 29, 2023 in La Jolla’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center. SummerFest 2023 continues in this venue through Saturday, August 26, 2023.


  1. Malou Rogers on August 2, 2023 at 9:16 am

    Your telling – so evocative- wish I could have experienced it – simply splendid programming

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