Wednesday night's brilliant performance of Dvorák's Quintet for Strings in E-flat Major at the Seattle Chamber Music Society's Summer Festival brought the audience to its feet. The series continues through Aug. 1 at Lakeside School and Aug. 6-15 at Overlake School.
When a musical performance shoots you into the stratosphere, it’s easy to develop a crush on the musicians responsible.
This is exactly what happened with the Dvorák on Wednesday night at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival. The audience leapt to its feet with a roar after violinists Stefan Jackiw and Stephen Rose, violists Richard O’Neill and Lily Francis and cellist Robert deMaine concluded the Quintet for Strings in E-flat Major. As the musicians stood on stage basking in the bravos, their flushed violin/viola hickeys could have been mistaken for love bites inflicted by an impassioned audience.
The vehicle responsible for the multiple curtain calls — Dvorák’s salty, earthy, twangy Quintet — is not the sort of piece one would expect to provoke this kind of response. Sure, its playful rhythms and easy-on-the-ear melodies are fun, but a bit gimmicky. The variegated textures that the musicians coaxed out of the piece — from shimmering metal in the higher registers to growling wolf notes in the lower — were a revelation of complexity and control. Violist O’Neill was especially persuasive in the second movement, and the butterfly skirmishes between violinist Jackiw and cellist deMaine in the achingly beautiful Larghetto brought smiles to the performers’ faces.
I had to restrain myself from clapping immediately afterward. Sometimes, a live performance is exactly what’s needed to animate a piece that never seems to wake up on recordings. (It helps, also, to be watching the very watchable Jackiw and Francis.)
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The Dvorák completely eclipsed the Schubert and Brahms that opened the concert. In his Allegro for Piano, Four Hands in A minor, Schubert wasn’t his usual lovely, singing self. The piece contains a lot of notes that snag at the ear in a worrisome sort of way and might make the listener think, “Was that right? Or was it a mistake?” Pianists Jeremy Denk and Alon Goldstein brought all the necessary technical thunder to the piece’s disquieting episodes of sturm und drang while opening up glittering patches of light in the quieter interludes. They were as precisely timed as two trapeze artists — an impressive display, but I couldn’t love it.
Nor could I fall for Brahms’ Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor, which, while pleasantly moody, doesn’t make a memorable statement. It’s just too easy to get distracted by the very different sonorities of the clarinet, cello and piano. The clarinet sounds like a well-defined marker line. The cello has a slightly frayed brush stroke. The piano, in this piece, produced vast washes of background color. Even while the cello carried the main melody, the clearness of the supporting clarinet threatened to overwhelm — through no fault of clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein, who was very good. Brahms just wasn’t at the top of his game in the Trio, so there really wasn’t much for the audience to hold close to its heart.
Sumi Hahn: firstname.lastname@example.org