There was no shortage of champagne to welcome early-arriving audience members to the Mainly Mozart Festival Chamber Players’ opening program Thursday (June 4) at Balboa Park’s Timken Museum. As the modest concert of chamber music for strings progressed, I wondered why the music lacked the effervescence of the libations that preceeded the program.

Ronald Thomas [photo courtesy of Mainly Mozart Festival]

Ronald Thomas [photo courtesy of Mainly Mozart Festival]

Certainly the caliber of the evening’s performers was not in question. Violinists Martin Chalifour and Mary Bérard as well as cellist Ronald Thomas have been leading lights of the Mainly Mozart Festival since its early days, and their musical acuity has only increased over the years. But given Thomas’s tepid programming, Beethoven’s String Trio in C Minor, Op. 9., No. 2, and Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in A Major, Op. 18, my attention wandered, scanning the classical scenes depicted in the impressive tapestries that lined the museum’s walls. Instead of focusing on the classical music wafting gently through the high-ceilinged chamber.

If only Stravinsky’s program-opening “Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet” had been the harbinger of surprise and fervid invention that was to come. Boris Allakhverdyan, a very proper, young Armenian clarinetist, gently tapered the wistful arcs of the first piece with a subdued, mellow timbre. As each piece expanded into more active figuration and livlier tempos, his color brightened appropriately, although he maintained his immaculate articulation even through the ecstatic finale.

Violist Mark Holloway joined Bérard and Thomas in The Beethoven C Minor String Trio, and their account proved fleet and thoughtfully balanced. Bérard’s warm, cantabile themes in the slow movement made the strongest impression, and her engaging duos with Holloway brightened the texture considerably. But this early Beethoven piece is more of an exercise, a rewarding diversion for string players, but not a deep piece that moves the listener to profound thoughts.

For Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in A Major, violinist Chalifour and violist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu joined the trio performers in a polished account of a work from the composer’s teen-age years. Growing up in a properous household in Berlin, where leading musicians performed regular Sunday concerts, Mendelssohn experienced a level of comfort and privilege few composers of his time knew firsthand, and this serene, untroubled quintet reflects that ethos. Chalifour set the standard for elegant phrasing and buoyant, ingratiating string color, and his colleagues followed his lead with alacrity. Although the work asks little of its listeners, the players gave most generously.

[themify_box style=”shadow” ]This chamber music concert was given on June 4, 2015, at the Timken Museum in Balboa Park. The 2015 Mainly Mozart Festival continues with a concert by the Festival Orchestra under the baton of Michael Francis on June 6 at 7:30 p.m. in downtown San Diego’s Balboa Theatre and continues through Saturday, June 20.[/themify_box]

Mainly Mozart Program & Bios

Photo of Timken Museum of Art
Timken Museum of Art
Work 1500 El Prado San Diego CA 92101 Work Phone: (619) 239-5548 Website: http://www.timkenmuseum.org/
Categories: Visual Arts
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Ken Herman

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar Christian Hertzog on June 6, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Wrong century! One should play early Baroque music to go along with the time period of the old Dutch and Italian masterworks there.

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