SummerFest '89 wound up its 10-day festival with a veritable orgy of chamber music this past weekend. The musical caliber of the three evening concerts at Sherwood Auditorium made it unquestionably clear that SummerFest is San Diego's class act, regardless of season.
Saturday's program dusted off some of the neglected gems of the literature. Charles Loeffler's Two Rhapsodies for Oboe, Viola and Piano (1905) proved a rewarding find--engaging, slightly mystical essays with an Impressionist tint. Oboist Allan Vogel and violist Toby Hoffman could not have been more sympathetic to Loeffler's ripe idiom, although pianist Jeffrey Kahane appeared to labor some of his surging flourishes.
On the other hand, Edward Elgar's rarely performed Piano Quintet in A Minor, Op. 84, (1918) is a flawed zircon at best. The work is awash in bloated, Brahmsian rhetoric, but has little to say. Pianist David Golub and his string colleagues gave it their all, but not even a warm, fluent reading could redeem this composition.
Violinist Joseph Swensen gave Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata an idiosyncratic reading, heroic--almost brutal--at times, and large-scaled in concept. Considering the strength of his sound, Swensen's timbre also has an uncommonly sweet edge in the upper reaches, where most fiddlers become steely or strident.
On Sunday, festival artistic director Heiichiro Ohyama presented a traditional program devoted to Brahms' C Minor Piano Quartet, Op. 60, and that grand icon of chamber music, Schubert's F Major Octet. Each piece confirmed the festival's claim to world-class standards, and it is unlikely that any patron went away grumbling at the concert's close. The opportunity to hear violinist Cho-Liang Lin lead the Schubert and to appreciate the impeccable musicianship of the brothers Hoffman (violist Toby and cellist Gary) in the Brahms would be a treat in any of the world's major music cities.
The Schubert performance was a model of balance and integration. Capturing the composer's ardor as well as his gentle lyricism, the SummerFest players overlooked not a single nuance or felicitous touch. It may appear unfair to single out extraordinary performances in such an excellent crew, but Lin, Gary Hoffman and French horn Richard Todd were particularly eloquent.
In Brahms' C Minor Quartet, the three strings (violinist Swensen joined the Hoffmans) were well-matched in both timbre and interpretive approach. Their fury, especially in the scherzo, was appropriately contained, and their invocation of the third movement's soulful resignation summed up the composer's identity with poignant grace. At the keyboard, Kahane was an eager, forceful collaborator. Perhaps it is churlish to wish that he also possessed Golub's maturity.