Prokofiev, Beethoven and Chausson well-played Wednesday night at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival

Exemplary string players have rarely been in short supply at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, but in recent years they have become abundant, many brought to the festival by James Ehnes, a first-class violinist himself as well as associate artistic director of the festival. The names of the violinists roll off the tongue, including Stefan Jackiw, Erin Keefe, Soovin Kim, Amy Schwartz Moretti, Stephen Rose and Scott St. John. This year Augustin Hadelich, in his debut festival season, joined the list,

Three of them played Wednesday night at Lakeside School: Hadelich, in Prokofiev; Ehnes, in Beethoven, and Kim, in Chausson. They informed the musical proceedings with their tonal presence, intelligent musicality and keen collaborative insights. Not surprisingly they have the technical resources to make the most of the music at hand. None sounds like the other so uniformity is never an issue. At Wednesday’s concert, there was much to say for the single violist — the admirable Richard O’Neill – and cellists Edward Arron and Robert deMaine. And, of course, the pianists Anna Polonsky, Jeremy Denk and Adam Neiman.

All together an evening to remember.

As Steven Lowe so aptly points out in the program, Prokofiev’s Fifth Violin Sonata has an interesting history, beginning life, in the heat of World War II, as a flute sonata. The Russian violinist David Oistrakh so admired the work, he wanted it for the violin and, with the composer as a partner, worked to that end. Its premiere, in 1944, followed the flute version by one year. It is not hard to see why a violinist of Hadelich’s temperament would be attracted to the piece, coupling the intellectual with the instinctual, the visceral with lyricism. Hadelich took to the piece with acumen and empathy. He was clear-headed about all before him and took full advantage of every idiosyncratic corner of the sonata.

The key of E-flat is one of triumph for Beethoven, and one feels a sense of triumph in his Piano Trio, Op. 70, No. 2, particularly the way it was performed by Ehnes, Arron and Denk. The whole reading seemed like a triumphant procession from the opening movement to the concluding Allegro. The three were completely assured, individually and collectively. They were fleet when necessary and thoughtful when Beethoven called for that. Moreover, they combined classical sensibilities with romantic expansion and managed to illuminate and entertain almost in a single breath. Denk has a lot of notes, but he never dominated the proceedings unnecessarily. The whole possessed crystalline textures and a wonderfully layered approach

To end this evening of superlative music-making was a sublime reading of Chausson’s Piano Quartet in A. Written two years before his death, in 1899, the work represents a summit in romantic expression, especially expressed by the three string instruments. Fortunately, at St. Nicholas Hall we had Kim, O’Neill and deMaine. Together they created opulent sonorities that were expressed in smooth-limbed phrases, particularly in the slow movement. The three men individually produce the most luxurious and warm tones which together are quite extraordinary in their effect. Neiman is very skilled pianist and adds considerably to whatever endeavor is on the page. He wove his part with discretion and sensitivity, although on occasion I would have preferred greater presence.


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