Sometimes the most unexpected event is the most delightful.
That was certainly the case in Monday’s concert (July 21) at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, where some last-minute program adjustments created an impromptu duo good enough to go out on the road and tour.
The early departure of director/violinist James Ehnes from the festival’s ranks (he left to attend the imminent arrival of his second child) left the musicians and management in an interesting quandary. It was solved when cellist Edward Arron and pianist Inon Barnatan put together a quick solution. Both of them had fairly recently played the Chopin Cello Sonata (though not together), and had the music “in their fingers.” A couple of speedy rehearsals, and the new duo was ready for prime time.
Arron and Barnatan knocked the audience’s socks off with the Chopin, in a performance full of passionate energy and solid artistic partnership. Arron proved himself to be one of today’s most interesting and accomplished cellists, pouring out beautifully shaped phrases throughout a wide dynamic range. The Largo movement in particular was beautifully shaped, subtle, and elegantly unforced.
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Arron played with conviction and authority, with a lot of life in his cello sound and the utter technical security to make the performance look easy. At the keyboard in this very pianistic score, Barnatan was perfectly in step with his new duo partner. The two of them started, stopped and negotiated phrases in a remarkable accord, playing expressively with immense freedom. The ovation they earned was particularly warm. Audiences tend to be grateful when the day is saved in such spectacular fashion.
The program opened with Haydn’s “Emperor” String Quartet No. 62, the one whose second-movement melody became the German national anthem. The violinists were Seattle Symphony concertmaster Alex Velinzon and Stefan Jackiw (the latter stepping in for Ehnes in that slot), with violist Michael Klotz and cellist Bion Tsang. Together they provided a spirited performance with lots of character and energy.
The Festival doesn’t always provide vocal music, which made the finale — Brahms “Liebeslieder Waltzes” — all the more welcome. With pianists Jeewon Park and Max Levinson sharing the keyboard, four singers (Hyunah Yu, Allyson McHardy, Nicholas Phan and James Westman) presented the 18 charming songs with plenty of interpretive spin. There were some occasional minor lapses in piano ensemble, but the lilting waltz songs were a hit all the same, with Phan offering some of the nicest moments in a dulcet reading of the next-to-last song, “Nicht wandle, mein Licht.”
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.