Exciting Chamber Music Performance by Musicians of the San Diego Symphony

The San Diego Symphony’s laudable chamber music series typically features some guest soloist who has just performed with the orchestra. But Tuesday’s (March 6) concert at the Auditorium at TSRI was handled with great aplomb by a hearty cadre of symphony musicians and two guest harpsichordists.

Felix Mendelssohn’s E-flat Major String Quartet, Op. 18, displayed the verve and polish of an ensemble that has played and toured together for years. Led with estimable drive and the rich, gleaming sonority of first violinist Jisun Yang, the orchestra’s Assistant Concertmaster, and eloquently supported by cellist Andrew Hayhurst, this quartet imbued Mendelssohn’s early quartet with that effervescent optimism that is the composer’s trademark.

In the second movement, titled Canzonetta, the quartet expressed the ingratiating charm of a lively folk tune deftly turned out for a village fair. Violist Che-Yen Chen opened the Andante espressivo with a luxurious solo that gracefully ceded to a soaring display by Yang. At long last in the exuberant finale, second violin Yeh Shen gave flight to a passionate solo turn. With such fleet ensemble playing and interpretive insight, I hope to hear more from this quartet.

The music of J.S. Bach seldom disappoints, and any opportunity to hear portions of his Musical Offering is treasured. Flutist Sarah Tuck, violinist Zou Yu and Cellist Marcia Bookstein, assisted by harpsichordist Alison Luedecke, gave a full-blooded yet beautifully detailed account of the C Minor Trio Sonata from that monumental collection. Notable were the players’ bold, decisive phrasing of the Allegro and the more delicately turned out sighing motifs of the Andante. Luedecke’s support as harpsichord continuo exhibited tasteful understatement, although mixing a period instrument with modern orchestral instruments always invites a certain imbalance.

Imbalance proved to be the annoying downside of Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Trio Sonata in B-flat Major. Obists Andrea Overturf and Sarah Skuster gave a spirited, masterful account of Zelenka’s inventive melodic cornucopia, but these two players were sonically overwhelmed by bassoonist Ryan Simmons and contrabassoonist Leyla Zamora on the bass line. The few sections of the trio sonata in which just the oboes and bassoon played revealed the beauty of Zelenka’s finely wrought counterpoint. I am confident that harpsichordist Nina Deering gave a respectable account of her continuo part, although working behind the heavy artillery of bassoons made her contribution nearly superfluous.

This concert of chamber music was presented by the San Diego Symphony on March 6, 2018, at the Auditorium at TSRI, 10620 John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego.

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