Given what we now know about Robert Schumann’s bipolar personality, it almost seems like a cheap shot to call his beloved Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 44, manic. According to his biographers, however, he did sketch the entire work in a few days and produced the finished score in a mere two weeks’ time.
With the exception of the strange, marchlike second movement, the rest of this Piano Quintet blisters relentlessly across the stage at dangerous and unforgivingly daunting tempos, a challenge that Mainly Mozart’s performers undertook Saturday (May 30) at the Auditorium at TSRI without the slightest indication of strain or undue exertion.
Pianist Jon Kimura Parker set the pace, his bright, keen-edged figurations vigorously cutting through the string quartet without overpowering his colleagues. I thought violinist Steven Copes mirrored more closely Parker’s stylish, acute phrasing and articulations, although his colleagues—violinist Alerander Kerr, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, and cellist Efe Baltacigil—brought equal virtuosity to the table.
Shrouding the slow second movement in hazy, spectral colors gave an otherworldly aura to the march’s curious hesitations, as did Huang’s throaty, macabre viola solos.
Parker’s technical brilliance in the Scherzo, which Schumann snarkily marked molto vivace, fooled some of the audience into thinking it was the Quintet’s concluding movement. Although Schumann’s final movement lacks the dazzle of his Scherzo, the ensemble projected an unexpected jocular interpretation of the its fugal sections that provided some of the program’s most rewarding moments.
The string quartet worked up to the Schumann with Mozart’s bagatelle, the Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546, and Beethoven’s early String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18, No. 4. From their program bios, it does not appear that these four string players regularly work together, and their opening Mozart displayed more individual muscle and assertion than fluid teamwork, and the ensemble’s dynamic contrasts were few.
Their account of Beethoven C Minor String Quartet, however, displayed more focus and balance among the players. They provided ample aristocratic elegance in Beethoven’s Scherzo, a more polite movement that, unlike Schumann’s Scherzo, looked back to Mozartean models. I was charmed by Copes’ warm, effusive themes in the Menuetto and stirred by the group’s unalloyed verve in the finale.
This program was given at the Auditorium at TSRI, 10620 John Jay Hopkins Drive, La Jolla, on May 30, 2015, the final concert of Mainly Mozart’s 2014-15 Spotlight Series. The Mainly Mozart Festival opens June 4 with a chamber music concert in Balboa Park’s Timken Gallery and on June 6 with the opening festival orchestra concert conducted by Music Director Michael Francis at the Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego. www.mainlymozart.org