Two Contrasting Halves at the Olympic Music Festival

United StatesUnited States  Beethoven, Mozart, Prokofiev, and Schoenfield: Julio Elizalde (piano); Jessica Lee (violin); Alan Iglitzin (viola); Patrick Jee (cello); Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 19/8/2012 (BJ)

The eighth program in this summer’s Olympic Music Festival fell into two sharply contrasted halves. The first offered the concentrated and sophisticated thematic interplay of great works by Beethoven and Mozart. Then, after intermission, the players let their hair down with the simpler pleasure to be found in the insistent rhythms and colorful textures of works by Prokofiev and the 65-year-old American composer Paul Schoenfield.

It is perhaps slightly unfair to suggest that Schoenfield’s Café Music is purely simple music: the central Andante moderato of this three-movement composition dating from 1986 is a thoroughly serious contrapuntal movement, from which violinist Jessica Lee and cellist Patrick Jee, strongly supported by Julio Elizalde at the keyboard, drew genuinely eloquent power. The rest of the work was more straightforwardly entertaining, as might be expected from a composer whose music often presents strongly klezmer-ish attributes, though in these two helter-skelter works the prevailing atmosphere was more innocently American than Jewish.

If Schoenfield’s exhilarating fast music exemplified the one-damn-thing-after-another school of formal organization, four of the movements that Prokofiev arranged for piano from his ballet Romeo and Juliet might be characterized as one-thing-over-and-over-again. I confess to not being a great fan of either the composer or the work. But while the Folk Dance that concluded the set strikes me as fairly unmitigated rubbish, even here Elizalde – whose spoken introductions are a model of their kind – played so well as to make the music sound better than it is.

No such considerations arose before intermission. The afternoon began with Beethoven’s A-major Violin Sonata, Op. 30 No. 1, a searchingly thoughtful yet immediately communicative work that Lee and Elizalde played with impeccable style; I was particularly impressed by their ability to combine rising phrases with falling dynamic levels, a trick that many instrumentalists find beyond their powers of restraint.

The Beethoven was followed by the second, in E-flat major, of Mozart’s two quartets for piano and strings. This is a masterpiece of the first water, boasting, in the second subject of its first movement, one of the most meltingly lovely tunes the composer ever wrote. The last of the three movements is a wonderful exercise in the faux-naïf: its opening theme sounds like the simplest little ditty you ever heard, but by the end the composer has taken it in any number of fascinating and complex directions.

Here too the performance could again be saluted as impeccable, except in one regard. Perhaps I should apologize for harking back to one of my pet peeves, which concerns the disregard of a composer’s instructions to repeat sections of his music. The first two movements on this occasion suffered by the omission of three out of four repeats.

Especially in a case like this, where, for both the Allegro and the Larghetto, Mozart took the trouble to write a coda that stands outside the pattern of repeated sections, there is a musical point to be enjoyed in the two different directions taken at the end of the respective recapitulations. To skip those repeats is thus to deprive us of the chance to enjoy Mozart’s mastery to the full – but I should perhaps add that it was not only the composer’s genius, but the four musicians’ superb playing, that made me all the keener to hear those sections over again.

Bernard Jacobson