Piratical Preface to Festival Finale

[Sullivan], Debussy, and Beethoven: Julio Elizalde (piano), Jessica Lee and Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu (violins), Alan Iglitzin (viola), Patrick Jee (cello), Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 31.8.2013 (BJ)

[Sullivan: “The Pirate King” from The Pirates of Penzance]
Debussy: Préludes, Book II
Beethoven: String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 127


Well, the square brackets are there because the uproarious rendering of a song from The Pirates of Penzance that began the proceedings at the Olympic Music Festival’s final 2013 weekend wasn’t really part of the program. Festival director Alan Iglitzin had injudiciously promised to sing the piece if a challenge for financial contributions a few weeks earlier was met. Anyway, with his wife and Festival vice-president Leigh Hearon at the piano, he displayed a baritone voice of some quality—how about a Winterreise next year? (I jest)—and a good time was had by all, audience and various Festival family members who joined in the fun on stage alike.

To conclude a summer that has featured some wonderful music-making in the Quilcene farm’s comfortable barn, the first of Beethoven’s late string quartets was an entirely worthy choice. Outwardly, the E-flat-major Quartet is perhaps less exploratory than the ones that followed it, closing as it does with a more-or-less traditionally built scherzo and finale. But the intricate structure of the first movement foreshadows similar inventiveness in the B-flat-major Quartet, Op. 130, and the Adagio is a movement of remarkably original texture. Most classical slow movements set contrasting textures and rhythms against the sustained nature of their themes, but Beethoven here devised a web of magically all-embracing calm, building gradually to some superbly eloquent climaxes, and only thereafter diversifying in more rapid note-values.

Without either exaggeration or inappropriate restraint, the performance captured all the beauty, strength, and intermittent humor of this great work. Violinist Wu, and of course violist Iglitzin, had both been in residence for several weeks; they were joined by returning violinist and cellist Jessica Lee and Patrick Jee, who slotted into the ensemble with graceful assurance.

It must be admitted that the concert’s first half was perhaps a disappointment to any but out-and-out Debussy enthusiasts. Julio Elizalde had been forced, by a bout of ill health that interrupted his preparations, to substitute that composer’s second book of Préludes for the previously announced Bach D-minor Concerto and Brahms Handel Variations (now promised for next season).

There was nevertheless much to enjoy in his subtly nuanced playing, as well as in his witty and informative introductory comments. And it would be churlish to close on any note but grateful enthusiasm for a Festival that has endured for thirty seasons and still seems to get better every year.

Bernard Jacobson