On Friday evening Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer festival held its final performance in the serene surroundings of Lakeside School. No more leisurely picnics beside the playing field, no intermissions under the evening sky in the little courtyard outside St. Nicholas Hall.
But hold on. This coming week and the one after you can still have all that ambience if you drive to The Overlake School in Redmond, which has an equally lovely campus including a picnic area and a small jewel of a concert hall, to hear another five recital/concert performances.
SCMS has known for sometime that it would have to leave Lakeside, and has been looking everywhere for a similar venue. There hasn’t been one, or not one which was available at the right times in the right place and which had a concert hall a tad bigger than the one at Lakeside (SCMS has been bursting out of that for several years).
Finally, it has chosen to move next summer to Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya, which has the advantage of at least 100 more seats and with the pre-concert picnics, catered or not, in the Garden of Remembrance beside the hall at Second and University. The Music Under the Stars program will continue so anyone who wants to hear the music for free will be able to sit in the garden and hear it piped out. Perhaps passersby will stop and listen too. It’s hoped, optimistically, that street noise will be lessened by 7 p.m.
Friday’s concert had all the typical hallmarks of an SCMS season: stellar playing all round, a fresh young musician being introduced to the Northwest, and at least one work unfamiliar to nearly everybody.
Every performance I’ve been to this season has been superb. It’s perhaps the best season ever, though as music director Toby Saks said, she feels that every year. Certainly it would be hard to best the playing Friday, notably violinist Erin Keefe’s gorgeous tone and interpretation of Grieg’s Sonata in C Minor, which she performed with pianist Jeremy Denk. It’s a powerful, intense piece though not a dark one. It starts for the violin on the low strings, from which Keefe drew an astonishingly rich, warm and deep sound, and the same qualities continued all the way to her highest notes. Her mastery of the music, her complete oneness with it and the comfort and authority with which she played it left the feeling that it might have been written just for her. Denk as always was a fine partner, but his inability to keep his body reasonably still when playing can be distracting.
As program annotator Steven Lowe said in his notes, Ludwig Thuille “is hardly a household word even among dedicated seekers of lesser-known composers,” despite considerable popularity in his lifetime (he was a contemporary of Mahler and Richard Strauss). I’d never heard of him, and composed myself to hear a second rate composition receive a first rate performance.
I was wrong. Thuille’s substantial Quintet in E-flat Major for piano and strings from 1901 started out with a well constructed though relatively unmemorable first movement, but by the second, I was recognizing an original mind and wondering why we don’t hear more of him. The long piano opening to the second movement set a somber tone and it became close to a dirge, but alive with some harmonies quite daring for that date and troubled emotions being brought out by the musicians. Thuille must have loved the viola as he gave that instrument the starring role in the third movement, full of vitality and quirky rhythm. Lastly the fourth dramatic movement included some unusual plucked string segments including a quiet canon, the whole being absorbing to hear.
The quintet received, again of course, a superlative interpretation and polished performance by violinists Scott Yoo and Stefan Jackiw. violist Che-Yen Chen, cellist Robert deMaine and pianist Adam Neiman.
Lastly came a Dvorak Piano Quartet, also in E-flat Major. Of particularly note here was the young Israeli pianist Ran Dank, new this past week to SCMS and now studying in the Juilliard School’s Artist Diploma Program but already the winner of several prestigious competitions. This is another prodigious talent. Dank also performed the pre-concert recital choosing Bach and a Liszt/Bellini transcription. I would have liked more articulation in the Bach and clearer elucidation of the structure in the Liszt, but this is someone very young still and just embarking on his career.
In the Dvorak, I felt in the first movement he was playing more like a soloist than a chamber musician, but by the second he had settled in as a team member easily capable of playing as sensitively and beautifully as violinist Stephen Rose, violist Richard O’Neill and cellist Ronald Thomas. Exquisite tone marked the strings throughout and the whole, as had each work on this last evening, brought the audience to its feet with prolonged applause and cheers.