Mendelssohn and Shostakovich are the bookends for a superb concert at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival

Wednesday’s concert of the Seattle Chamber Music Festival at Lakeside School sold out more than a month ago, with a line of people waiting at the box office hoping for a returned ticket or two. A number of concerts this season, as in previous summers, have sold-out, but four weeks ahead is unusual.

One has to believe the reason is in the repertory. In this case that means Mendelssohn’s First Piano Quartet, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in G and Shostakovich’s Piano Trio in E Minor. The Mendelssohn has only been played twice in previous seasons, once at Lakeside and once at the winter festival, and the Beethoven, four times at Lakeside and once at Overlake. It is the Shostakovich that has had so many performances: six at Lakeside and one at the winter festival.

As Steven Lowe points out in his excellent program notes, the trio was a tribute to Shostakovich’s friend Ivan Sollertinsky, a critic and conductor, who died in 1944, at the height of World War II. The work could not be a more personal or more eloquent testimony to the depth of the composer’s friendship. It is a work of sheer genius, not a phrase wasted or misplaced. Much is incomparably poignant but never maudlin, riveting, even manic on occasion.

If this is indeed the work so many people came to hear, they must have been gratified by the performance of violinist Erin Keefe, cellist Ronald Thomas and pianist Jeremy Denk. These musicians are all known at the festival, both for their technical acumen and music-making. They gave a searing account of the piece, capturing its mercurial temperament and depth of feeling. Keefe has a considerable beauty of tone but was not afraid to sacrifice it for raw passion. Thomas is a cellist of great merit which he displayed measure after measure. Denk’s work was uniformly admirable.

Not surprisingly the Mendelssohn is a quartet of fluent melody and substantive charm. This was the sort of reading provided by violinist Stefan Jackiw, violist Richard O’Neill, cellist Robert deMaine and pianist Adam Neiman. The piece is the composer’s first published work, in 1822. He was 13. As such, it is understandably fresh and youthful. The four provided weight but not too much so. They took the composer’s paragraphs of passage work — the piano part perhaps in excess — and gave it welcome breadth. Whereas the Shostakovich probes the soul, the Mendelssohn is a swim in a clear, untroubled lake.

The Beethoven was the perfect bridge between the two works. It is neither too much nor too little. The “Kreutzer” Sonata, which preceded the Opus 96, would have been too much, and the early sonatas too little. The violinist was Nurit Bar-Josef. She has an uncommonly sweet tone that she put to good use. She also has nimble fingers that managed their assignment well. The pianist, William Wolfram, was a dutiful partner.

The festival concludes its Lakeside presence July 31 and resumes concerts Aug. 5 at the Overlake School on the Eastside.


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