Scanning the audience at Monday’s concert, it was hard to find an empty seat anywhere. And it’s going to be difficult to score any tickets to the remaining two programs in this final week of the 2013 Summer Festival of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. When you can pack the house for a program including a work of Elliott Carter (famous for his audience-repellent properties), a much-revised effort by Charles Ives, and a rather thorny piece by a teenaged Leonard Bernstein, you know you’re doing something right — and this festival is doing just that.
Artistic director James Ehnes not only programmed these works, but also lined up musicians who could make an excellent case for them, and arranged for a commercial recording project featuring them (the three pieces were recorded live during this concert). Rounding out the program — though not the recording — were two great classics: Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, and Schumann’s Op. 47 Piano Quartet. This was enough to lure even the Carter-averse music lovers into the audience.
It was definitely safe to go into the water, so to speak. The Carter “Elegy” turned out to be quite lovely, a lyrical and tonal piece dating from 1943 for viola and piano. Violist Richard O’Neill’s richly inflected tone and pianist Anna Polonsky’s able partnership made many fans for this work, which Ehnes unearthed during one of those repertoire searches regularly undertaken by artistic directors.
The evening’s opener, the Bernstein Piano Trio, proved inventive, jaunty, and challenging (sometimes for the listeners as well as the musicians). Violinist Erin Keefe, cellist Amit Peled, and pianist Adam Neiman were the performers, sounding a bit careful at first, in the way of musicians who know they’re performing for posterity. The performance gained in energy and strength as it went forward.
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The gently undulating Ives Largo for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano brought violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, clarinetist Ricardo Morales, and pianist Polonsky together for a detailed and nuanced reading. Morales returned in the “Kegelstatt” Trio (with O’Neill and pianist Orion Weiss), with a performance so subtle that his diminuendo effects brought the tone down to a tiny thread of sound, as if the clarinet were barely breathing.
The finale was a remarkably fine version of the Schumann Piano Quartet, led off by spontaneous, lyrical playing by Polonsky in some of the best work we’ve heard from her. Cellist Robert deMaine stepped forward in the third movement with a lovely account of the arch-romantic theme, joined by violinist Moretti and violist David Harding. Not surprisingly, the high-energy finale brought the listeners to their feet in acknowledgment of playing that reached the heart of the music — and the hearts of the audience.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.