SCMS musicians face Wednesday’s record breaking heat with cool-headed playing

Festival violinist Erin Keefe joined Stefan Jackiw for a performance of Prokofiev's Sonata for two Violins.

Before last night’s Seattle Chamber Music Society recital and concert got underway the festival’s stage manager gave the audience welcome news – Saint Nicholas Hall was air conditioned. Unlike the concerts from earlier in the month, Wednesday evening was unpleasant weather-wise. Seattle suffered under 100 degree temperatures and it seemed, based on my observation of the lawn and dinner crowd, the heat persuaded many long-time fans of the festival to stay home.

Wednesday’s concert demonstrated once again what the festival does well – marrying expert musicians with diverse repertoire.

The highlight of the evening for me was Jeremy Denk and Soovin Kim’s engaging performance of Charles Ives’s Violin Sonata Nr. 3. Denk is a naturally curious musician and an exceptional communicator. On his blog – Think Denk – he regularly examines and deconstructs music. His dissections of Bach, Brahms, and others are easy to follow and never patronizing. What makes Denk’s recitals special is his ability to bring audience members face-to-face with challenging music.  Because of Denk’s analysis I was able to appreciate and understand Ives’s sonata better — following the composer’s manipulation of the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour.”  I suspect this sentiment was held by more than just me.

The Ives’s sonata was followed with a charming performance of Vincent d’Indy’s Piano Trio Op. 48 by Soovin Kim, Ronald Thomas, and Adam Nieman. The trio is pleasant and unobtrusive and the music is enjoyable. Adam Nieman played sensitively in the broad solo passages of the third movement and Ronald Thomas regained the affecting tone I remember from last year in the second movement.

Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins was next. Everyone loves Stefan Jackiw. Jackiw has won over Seattle crowds with his boyish looks and sublime playing. Earlier in the week he played Brahms’s Sonata for Violin and Piano Op. 100 with Jeremy Denk, Wednesday he and Erin Keefe took on Prokofiev’s duo sonata. Keefe is no slouch.  Her playing in the festival is uncomplicated and likable.  Together, Keefe and Jackiw coyly wound their way through Prokofiev’s music.

The evening closed with Brahms’s Piano Trio Op. 101. The Op. 101 is the shortest of the composer’s three piano trios. Terse best describes the piece. The longest movement is just a bit over six minutes. Brahms uses short themes throughout and even the finale is pushy en route to the trio’s aggressive ending. Stephen Rose, Robert deMaine, and festival newcomer Ran Dank were a well-matched trio. I have heard more urgent performances on disk, but the trio of musicians on Wednesday replaced Brahms’s fire with balanced and tidy playing that was a pleasure to hear from start to finish.

The heat might have kept many people at home and the audience would have given the air conditioner a standing ovation if they could, but these weather related matters are ancillary to yet another fine festival concert.

There is one more Lakeside concert tonight before the festival moves to Redmond for the rest of this  year and then to Benaroya Hall in 2010.

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2 thoughts on “SCMS musicians face Wednesday’s record breaking heat with cool-headed playing

    • Thanks for the comment Derek.

      I am imperfect and forget all sorts of stuff :). I agree it was an unexpected treat, but I actually found Dank to be a far better ensemble player than soloist. His French Suite on Friday left me cold and the Chopin, while well played, felt mechanical. He’s still young and still developing. I hope Toby is able to bring him back for the winter festival or next summer. I look forward to watching him grow as an artist.

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