Easy-Listening Opens La Jolla SummerFest 2014

Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky [photo courtesy of La Jolla Music Society]

Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky [photo courtesy of La Jolla Music Society]

La Jolla’s chic Prospect St. is lined with gourmet restaurants that feature a wide array of gastronomical pleasures, but at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Sherwood Auditorium, Friday’s (August 1) opening concert of SummerFest 2014 offered wall-to-wall comfort food. From Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances” to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, SummerFest Music Director Cho-Liang Lin coddled his audience with familiar offerings served with panache by world-class musicians.

Not unlike inviting Wolfgang Puck into your kitchen to whip up macaroni and cheese.

For the record, SummerFest’s account of The Four Seasons proved as athletic and extroverted as you are likely to encounter in a chamber music setting. With the exception of the two cellists, all the string players performed standing and ceded leadership to the solo violinist in each concerto, this ensemble’s sole accommodations to Baroque performance practice. Each soloist—one per season, of course—gave a different take on Vivaldi, although everyone appeared to agree that Allegro meant “as fast as possible” and Presto the same.

Lin started with “Spring,” to which he lent his customary verve and silvery timbre, as well as his patented mystical incantation, notably in the slower sections. In “Summer,” Alexander Kerr’s slightly larger, more burnished sonority served him well in that concerto’s vibrant, stormy sections, but he never lost his elegant sense of proportion.

In “Fall,” Jennifer Frautschi sounded like she was channeling Max Bruch rather than an Italian Baroque master, her rhapsodic flourishes scattering bar lines like autumn leaves on a windy afternoon, although her plaintive cantilena in the middle movement unfolded with heartfelt allure. Following that proverbial dictum of saving the best for last, Kristen Lee’s sublime, Apollonian “Winter” boasted a sumptuous but well-focused line that was undaunted by roiling figurations and soared with lyrical ardor in more relaxed tempos. She is new this season to SummerFest, and she is an astounding find. Brava!

Opening the concert and the festival with back-to-back piano four-hand suites left some audience members wishing they had ordered a double expresso after dinner. Although I could not fault the refined and exquisitely detailed performances offered by pianists Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky—four movements from Antonin Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances,” Op. 46, and the six tongue-in-cheek sections of Gabriel Fauré’s Dolly Suite—these lightweight movements droned on in mind-distracting understatement.

Beethoven’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 11, is not one of his more profound statements, but clarinetist Burt Hara pursued his assignment with the noble intentions he or any of his woodwind colleagues would apply to, say, the Mozart Clarinet Concerto. He allowed the lithe, jaunty themes of the Trio’s opening movement their playful moments, as did pianist Polonsky. Cellist Eric Kim treated the second movement as a sparkling cello aria whose thunder was snatched away when the clarinet took over the airy theme.

I am hoping the Beethoven Trio proves the omen for the remainder of SummerFest 2014, which continues at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Sherwood Auditorium and other La Jolla venues through August 22.

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La Jolla Music Society
7946 Ivanhoe Ave., Suite 309 La Jolla CA 92037 Work Phone: 858.459.3728
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