MUSIC REVIEW : Novelties Abound at SummerFest ’91


There was something refreshing in hearing genuine, even painful, atonality enthusiastically sounded at the latest chamber-music concert at SummerFest ’91.

Tuesday night in Sherwood Auditorium, one of the older (32 years old) architectural landmarks in downtown La Jolla, Alfred Schnittke’s Piano Quartet, a work written in 1972, brought moroseness, abrasiveness and nuances of grief to the popular August chamber series.

These are not usual qualities found in the programs invented by artistic director Heiichiro Ohyama, agendas on which even novelty sometimes seems in short supply. But at the first of three events closing the festival this week, novelty reared its lovely head three times.


For a starter, there was what may have been the first local hearing of a student work by Robert Schumann, the C-minor Piano Quartet, a piece completed when the composer was 20.

Then came a revival, and a rare one, of Manuel de Falla’s lucid and neo-classic Concerto for harpsichord, flute, oboe, clarinet, violin and cello. The highly intense, tightly constructed, emotionally draining Schnittke work closed the program.

The Soviet composer’s often bleak, 25-minute work moves through its five interconnected movements with a sense of inevitability and a surprising--for a piece so personal and intimate in its moods--range of emotions.

There may be no moments of jollity here, yet long passages apparently indicating a devastating grief--the work was completed during the period just following the death of the composer’s mother--are broken into by stretches that vary the emotional landscape.

Ultimately, some hopefulness or sense of resolution emerges out of this gripping scenario--and the piece ends, quietly. No serious listener can be unmoved by this progression of musical events. The hard-listening La Jolla audience gave the performers hearty approval.

The tight-knit ensemble accomplishing these complexities, apparently expertly, was made up of violinists Julie Rosenfeld and Sheryl Staples, violist Toby Hoffman, cellist Carter Brey and pianist David Golub.


Mark Kroll was the efficient and commanding protagonist in a polished run-through of the Falla work. His colleagues were Maria Piccinini, Allan Vogel, Lee Livengood, Rosenfeld and Brey.

At the beginning of the evening, Andre Previn, who certainly does not need to prove his superiority as a chamber-music pianist--all the years he appeared regularly on the L.A. Philharmonic’s chamber series at Gindi Auditorium will be remembered fondly, long after his administrative altercations are forgotten--undertook the finger-busting, stamina-testing duties of principal in the Schumann work. As usual, he played beautifully, virtuosically and without sweat.

His partners were violinist Young Uck Kim, violist Ohyama and cellist Gary Hoffman, all performing nobly. And, like Previn, a class act.