SAN DIEGO — This may be a city with no symphony, but the local appetite for classical music remains undiminished, as a pair of concerts held over the weekend clearly demonstrated. Saturday evening at the First Unitarian Church, a sold-out house rallied to hear Ethan Dulsky lead a 40-member contingent of players from the former San Diego Symphony.
Saturday's crowd at the Hillcrest church was but a foretaste, however, of the masses who packed the 1,400-seat sanctuary of San Diego's First Presbyterian Church on Sunday night to hear pianist Gustavo Romero and violinist Frank Almond Jr. play a joint recital. And hundreds more watched the performance transmitted by closed-circuit television into remote meeting halls scattered in the bowels of the old downtown church.
Surprisingly, this was the first time San Diego's favorite prodigies have performed together locally. Still in their early 20s, they both live and study in New York City, where they will return after this mid-winter hometown visit.
Though the most casual melange of showy encores and knuckle-busting etudes would have pleased the young men's partisan audience here, they chose instead a trio of earnest duo sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms. If their goals were serious and high-minded, their performance was lofty and at times sublime. It was a night to remember.
Pianist and violinist were best matched in Beethoven's pithy G Major Sonata, Op. 96, where they gracefully traded cantabile motifs and tailored duo passages in seamless satin. They plumbed the sonata's profound calm and inner strength in ways that belied their blushing youth. For Almond, the work provided a vehicle for his warmest timbres and most lyrical phrasing.
Romero had the upper hand in the opening Mozart A Major Sonata, K. 526, where his quicksilver digital technique defined the composer's intentions with effortless abandon. As his performance of the Mozart D Minor Piano Concerto, K. 466, in November with the San Diego Chamber Orchestra proved, Romero speaks the Classical dialect with disarming subtlety and finesse.
Almond struggled to find a parallel focus in his Mozart solo lines, but he imbued the sonata's closing presto with effervescent vigor. Their interpretation of Brahms' D Minor Sonata for Violin and Piano neglected neither its ardor nor its serene introspection.
Almond's sole accommodation to popular taste was a confident, bravura reading of Tchaikovsky's Valse-Scherzo, Op. 34, with Romero providing a stylish keyboard transcription of the orchestra part. Romero's only solo turn, the Chopin "Barcarolle," Op. 60, reiterated the musical values already projected in his sonata accompaniments: brilliance tempered with elegance and a keen ear for subtle architectural distinctions.
They young men offered a movement from Ravel's Violin Sonata as an encore, delighting in its bluesy swagger and asymmetrical accompaniment.