Beautiful summery weather? Check.
Charming and urbane speech by festival director James Ehnes? Check.
Audience leaping to its feet and bellowing “Bravo!”? Check.
Yes, it’s the annual Summer Festival of the Seattle Chamber Music Society, back for another month of high-level and intimate concerts in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya. This well-loved festival has survived a venue change and an apparently seamless transition in leadership, and its vital signs (artistic quality and ticket sales) are still excellent.
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The happy opening-night crowd settled in for a program of Beethoven, Brahms and shorter works by Enescu and Honegger. The opener, Beethoven’s early C Minor Piano Trio, featured the always-excellent violinist Ida Levin as first among equals, giving an assertive performance with her usual flair and fire. The pianist was the brilliant and artful Inon Barnatan, and David Requiro was the capable cellist (a bit too far in the background for an ideal balance). This familiar piano trio has seldom sounded so elegantly burnished.
Trumpet virtuoso Jens Lindemann appeared next, playing a pair of solo pieces (Honegger’s “Intrada” and Enescu’s “Légende”) with pianist Andrew Armstrong. Formerly a member of the Canadian Brass and now an international soloist, Lindemann addressed the audience with an extended joke (first in German, then in heavily accented English, then dropping the accent), and briefly discussed the two works (both bravura concert pieces). Lindemann’s technique proved spectacular, but there also were pitch problems, and a lot of the playing sounded more forceful than artistic. At one point, the stage was bathed in red lights, an odd counterpoint to the music.
It was the Brahms — the famous Clarinet Quintet (Op. 115) — that stole the show, with the clarinet wizard Ricardo Morales playing with almost miraculous delicacy. The melting beauty of his sound and the subtlety with which it was produced were beyond praise. Morales joined violinists James Ehnes and Stephen Rose, violist Rebecca Albers and cellist Brinton Smith for this performance. Morales’ musical exchanges with Ehnes were exquisitely crafted.
Morales receded at times into the ensemble, emerging again to produce subtle arpeggios or a rising line that gradually emerged as a solo. His command of dynamics was matched by the four string players, and the quintet members sounded as if they had been playing together regularly for at least a decade. What a pleasure to hear a great work given its full due.
The festival’s season, which continues on Monday (July 1), is dedicated to the memory of two recently deceased supporters who played vital roles in its history: the vibrant Arlene Wade, a founding board member, and the energetic Helen Gurvich, who launched the festival’s endowment. Both will be greatly missed.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.