Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival closed out its first week with a sold-out, scintillating program featuring the Shostakovich Piano Trio (Op. 8), and Beethoven’s String Quartet (Op. 135) and “Archduke” Trio.
When you have a sold-out audience, and you’ve run out of concert programs, and they’re shouting “Bravo!” before the musicians have played a single note, you know you’re doing something right.
That was the scenario on Friday evening at the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, ending a triumphant week of performances with a scintillating mostly-Beethoven program. The music spanned the effervescence of a very early Shostakovich Piano Trio (Op. 8), and the graceful farewell of Beethoven’s final String Quartet (Op. 135). In between came an eternal audience favorite, Beethoven’s tuneful “Archduke” Trio. No wonder the hall was crowded.
Festival artistic director James Ehnes started off the proceedings with a salute to cellist Ronald Thomas, the only musician to have appeared in 30 consecutive festival seasons. Thomas went on to play very commendably in the “Archduke” Trio, where he was joined by the lyrical violinist Augustin Hadelich. At the keyboard was the pianist Orion Weiss, who gave a magisterial, eloquent account of the score – but one a bit too heavy-handed for an ideal balance with the two string players.
Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival
Through Aug. 1, Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Seattle; $48; $30 senior rush 90 minutes before each concert; $16 students (206-283-8710 or seattlechambermusic.org).
The Shostakovich opener brought together violinist Benjamin Beilman and cellist Efe Baltacigil, with pianist Anna Polonsky in an exciting, mercurial reading of this Jekyll-and-Hyde piece. Sublimely subtle and wildly raucous, this one-movement trio by the teenaged Shostakovich is seldom programmed, but these three artists made a strong case for its arch-romantic delicacy – and its edgy anti-romanticism as well.
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As long as there are string players, Beethoven’s late quartets will prove an irresistible magnet and a continuing challenge. How to interpret their changes and twists, their deep profundity, their technical challenges? The Ehnes Quartet (the festival’s artistic director with second violinist Amy Schwarz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neill, and cellist Robert deMaine) revisited the Op. 135 Quartet in a performance that brought out the work’s light-hearted whimsy, as well as its deeply serious and warmly hymnlike qualities. Mercurial and full of sudden changes in direction, the Op. 135 also poses formidable technical challenges (not always met, notably in those tricky viola/cello octaves at the beginning of the final movement). The four players play with exceptional grace, subtlety, and unanimity. Their performances have been among the peak moments of the festival’s first week.
And now, “Beethoven week” gives way in the festival programming to all kinds of new directions: some remarkable vocal music, some tasty chamber-music standards, and the return of a longtime festival favorite, Jeremy Denk. The Fourth of July may be over, but the fireworks go on.