Figuratively speaking, pianist John Novacek assumed center stage for a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 in A on Saturday for the second concert of this season’s Pacific Symphony Chamber Music Series.
Literally, however, he sat to the rear of center in Laguna Beach High School’s Artists’ Theatre, behind his five accompanists. Perhaps stagehands had the night off, or maybe the musicians felt that the seating arrangement emphasized the chamber-music quality of the work, which led to the composer’s option of playing it with string quartet instead of orchestra. Yet the players seemed uncomfortable with that choice, and fleshed out the strings by adding bassist Steven Edelman to double the cello line an octave below, as he would in the full score.
The results emerged unsettled as well--at least in the middle movement when the string players lent rough backing to Novacek’s unflinching refinement and overbalanced his subdued cantabile.
Elsewhere, however, the efforts of guest violinist Isabella Lippi, and the Pacific Symphony principals--second violinist Amy Sims, violist Robert Becker, cellist Timothy Landauer and Edelman--reaped a finer harvest, as the quintet seconded the pianist’s delicately appointed phrases in kind. On his part, Novacek proffered graceful shading, thoughtful attention to harmonic shifts and understated playfulness.
As equals, in Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A, the “Trout,” the same ensemble--minus Sims--tendered more communicative interplay, although Lippi conveyed more a sense of work than of fun in this most amiable of pieces. Still, her cohorts caressed their melodies, with warm-hued nuance and energetic dovetailing, for a sunny outcome illuminated by gentle insistence and lilting contrasts.