LA JOLLA — Whether it's grand opera or chamber music, San Diego music audiences are known for their conservative tastes. For the most part, SummerFest '87 catered to these predilections with typical Germanic fare--generous portions of Beethoven, Brahms and Mendelssohn.
But Saturday evening at Sherwood Auditorium, director Heiichiro Ohyama indulged in SummerFest's most adventuresome programming. He surrounded Webern's "Five Movements for String Quartet," Op. 5, with Beethoven's Viola Quintet in C Major and Shostakovich's G Minor Piano Quintet.
Sunday night, the La Jolla Chamber Music Society's highly successful festival came to a dignified close. Sherwood Auditorium was again packed, with extra rows of chairs set up at either edge of the stage. In spite of the festival's demanding schedule of seven concerts in nine days, patrons apparently could not get enough chamber music. According to the society's director, Geoff Brooks, the average house was filled to 107% of capacity, and almost one-third of the patrons signed on for all seven concerts.
Sunday's high point was a rhapsodic rendition of Mendelssohn's Second Piano Trio, played in the grand Romantic manner by Golub, Ushioda and Hoffman. While clarinetist David Shifrin's role in the opening Beethoven Clarinet Trio was disappointingly muted, he redeemed himself in the grand finale, Brahms' Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115. Shifrin's refined, aristocratic playing was well-suited to the quintet's suave counterpoint. The string ensemble--Fried, Ushioda, Ohyama, and Leonard--provided the emotional quotient that brought out the work's bittersweet, autumnal character.
Saturday night's concert, displaying the festival's most brilliant and cohesive ensemble playing, could have won over even the most hidebound traditionalist. Webern's intense opus shimmered under the ardent precision of violinists Paul Bliss and Andres Cardenes, violist Robert Vernon and cellist Ronald Leonard.
Igor Stravinsky, who came to appreciate Webern rather late in life, called the composer's compact works "dazzling diamonds." This ensemble not only caught the refracted beauty of Webern's delicate instrumentation, but also bathed the texture in a lush, Romantic timbre that brought out the continuity Webern always averred he had with the "Austro-German tradition of Schubert and Brahms."
Like Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony, his Piano Quintet, completed in 1940, was calculated to rehabilitate his musical reputation after his fall from Party favor in the late 1930s. While its idiom may be restrained, the work's emotional gamut runs from hearty, peasant extroversion to the most lyrical, introspective pathos. With pianist David Golub and violinist Gyorgy Pauk setting the pace, these extremes of temperament were thoroughly and confidently explored.
In previous performances with the San Diego Symphony, Pauk has tended to a cold, steely tone, especially when playing the moderns. But in the Shostakovich he found a limpid precision and warmth that could not be faulted. With violinist Miriam Fried, who modified her usual robust approach to complement Pauk, he opened the second movement fugue with breathtaking serenity. Golub fused the spare outlines of his part with the strings, achieving the maximum effect from every nuance of articulation. Violist Vernon and cellist Gary Hoffman completed the ensemble.
The effervescent good humor of Beethoven's Viola Quintet, ably propelled by violinist Masuko Ushioda's assertive but stylish leadership, made an apt program opener. While its playful idiom made minimal demands on the audience, the polished playing rewarded even the most casual listener.