The second season of James Ehnes’ artistic directorship at the Seattle Chamber Music Society is well under way, and audiences now are accustomed to his programming philosophy: blending traditional favorites with the new and unusual.
On Monday evening, that blend produced a mostly successful concert by combining two well-known trios — a Beethoven and a Mozart — with the world premiere of “Sanctuary,” a septet in four movements by Lawrence Dillon. The premiere was funded by the Society’s commissioning club, an imaginative group approach to the creation of new repertoire.
So what was the new piece like? Composed for French horn, two violins, viola, cello, bass and piano, Dillon’s work explores four kinds of solitude, in music that has a cinematic feel — almost like a soundtrack for an action movie with some quieter scenes. Lots of heavy accents punctuate the textures (especially in the first and last movements); there are moments of lovely, wistful repose and eerie harmonics, and some well-crafted string passages (notably in the third movement). The fourth movement has a jazzy vibe that gives way to an abrupt ending in open fifths on the keyboard.
There’s no question that Dillon is a skilled craftsman who understands the possibilities of instruments and uses them in imaginative ways. “Sanctuary” greets the ear, however, more as a succession of interesting ideas and episodes than as a cohesive piece in which the ideas are more fully developed. Still, it’s an audience-friendly score that was well received — and well played by Jeffrey Fair (horn), Nurit Bar-Josef and Ehnes (violins), Rebecca Albers (viola), Julie Albers (cello), Jordan Anderson (bass) and Andrew Russo (piano).
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The opening Beethoven “Ten Variations on ‘Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu,’ ” a piano trio featuring violinist Andrew Wan, cellist Bion Tsang and pianist Anton Nel, got an impressive performance that contrasted a dark, introspective opening with the lighthearted variations which followed. The performance was nicely detailed, with fine playing all around.
The program’s finale, Mozart’s Divertimento for String Trio in E-Flat (K.563), brought together violinist Augustin Hadelich, violist Cynthia Phelps and cellist Ronald Thomas. Hadelich’s beautifully nuanced violin found its answer in Phelps’ energetic replies from the viola; cellist Thomas was not at his best.
When Hadelich’s multi-paged, much-extended score crashed to the ground in the final movement, the violinist was undaunted, restarting the group at the right place and proceeding to the triumphant finale. It takes more than a minor crash to derail these players, who received an enthusiastic ovation after the final chord.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org