Parker and Francis Open Mainly Mozart Festival at Balboa with Panache

San Diego Story

With newly minted Mainly Mozart Festival Music Director Michael Francis on the podium Saturday (June 6), the first festival orchestra concert of the 2015 season catapulted the packed Balboa Theatre audience into an ebullient mood. A combination of Francis’ bracing tempos, pianist Jon Kimura Parker’s keyboard wizardry, and the orchestra’s ever reliable finesse produced a rewarding musical trifecta.

He did appear to be a speed freak, however, not unlike the proverbial teenager who is given the keys to a Ferrari and immediately takes it out to see just how fast it will go. From this elite chamber orchestra Francis elicited a tightly focused ensemble that was able to provide him with the super-charged tempos he appeared to relish.

I was particularly taken with the second movement, the Allegretto, where he drew soulful sighs from the low strings and a myriad of cleanly outlined colors in the deft fughetta. In his program notes Francis aptly described this movement as a stately dance, and I also heard in it a stately procession wending its way through the Balboa.

The heart of this program was Jon Kimura Parker’s sparkling account of Mozart’s C Major Piano Concerto, K. 467. Although K. 467 is one of the most frequently played of the nearly 30 Mozart piano concertos, Parker made it sound fresh and vibrant, full of surprising details and engaging turns, without seeming the slightest bit fussy. Speed and clarity may be virtues than piano teachers preach endlessly, but Parker demonstrated that it is equally important to  communicate the purpose of every technical feat, and intention animated his performance from the first notes he played.

Individuals of a certain age will recall the concerto’s delectable middle movement as the theme from the film Elvira Madigan, and Parker gave its dulcet melody a slightly otherworldly character, which Francis had the orchestra mirror precisely. The purist side of my brain began to complain about “Romanticizing” Mozart, but I decided to shut that down and simply enjoy the magic of the moment.

Parker’s rousing cadenzas bubbled over with surprises and allusions to other Mozart works (I noted the opening motifs from Symphony No. 40 in the first movement cadenza), keeping us in delightful suspense, wondering what he would do next—exactly what a cadenza should do. Bravo!

For his encore, Parker offered his wistful, nuanced take on Scott Joplin’s rag, “Solace.” 

Read the rest of the review here