By R.M. Campbell
Just as the summer festival of the Seattle Chamber Music Society has taken a quantum leap in excellence over the past few years, so has the winter festival. The four-day event, which concluded Sunday afternoon with a splendid concert, gave evidence to that claim. This is the first year in nearly 30 in which both festivals will be held in the same place — Nordstrom Recital Hall. Home to summer event for most of its life, Lakeside School, and its pastoral calm, is no longer available to the festival. After a long search, Nordstrom was selected for its size, excellent acoustical properties and central location. There is room to grow in this hall, where there was none in St. Nicholas Hall, a smaller, less commodious and acoustically deficient venue. Officials have already been working on improving the extra-concert hall accommodations. I have no doubt that will be accomplished by summer — the festival opens July 5 — I believe people will readily embrace the new facility. If they want a bucolic ambience, they can attend concerts at Overlake School in Redmond, a summer Eastside branch of the main festival. Not only is there a handsome campus, the acoustics of its hall are superb.
This year, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birth, the festival programmed his three piano trios. What first-rate idea. His last trio was performed Sunday. The work was written as the composer was slowly losing his rational powers, although he had moments of genuine lucidity. This trio in G Minor (Op. 110) is from 1851, three years before his death. Other music was to be written afterwards but little has the imagination and verve of this trio. It proponents were violinist Ilya Kaler, cellist Amit Peled and pianist Alon Goldstein, who have become a piano trio, said Peled from the stage. After hearing their reading of the Schumann, it is not hard to understand they are going to join forces on a more formal basis. The three have an impressive sense of ensemble and extraordinary balance. No one dominates unnecessarily. Kaler has a rich sound with gleaming high notes. (He plays a 1735 Guarnerius del Gesu on loan from the Stradivari Society of Chicago). Peled has a big, handsome sound, surely due, in part, to his 1689 Andrea Guarneri. Even without that glorious old instrument, he would succeed. Glodstein is an incisive, articulate musician. They all have resourceful techniques and innate musicality. Together, with Schumann’s genius, they made a huge impression, one that combined ebullience and insight.
The afternoon began more than a half century earlier, in 1797, with Beethoven’s Piano Quartet (Op 16). This is a youthful work: Beethoven was yet 30. Yet, the quartet, for all of its bowing to its antecedents, namely Mozart, bows to no one at the end. He is his own man. The quartet is full of marvelous ideas expertly carried out. There is charm galore and ease of movement over three movements. Beethoven was ably assisted by the quartet at Nordstrom: violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Richard O’Neil, cellist Bion Tsang and pianist William Wolfram. They possessed the transparent textures needed for a piece so rooted in the Classical era. Moreover, their tones were in harmonious accord and their ideas fully developed and in sync with one another. It was a good day for Beehoven. It was also a good day for violist Richard O’Neill, but then I think every day is a good day for this immensely talented young musician.
Dohnanyi’s Sextet (violin, viola, cello, clarinet, French horn, piano) ended the concert. Hearing the piece today, it is hard to understand why 13 years elapsed between its composition and its premiere in 1948. Certainly, compared with other music of the era, the sextet is not difficult listening. Indeed, it captures our attention quickly and never lets it go. Dohnanyi did not write a lot of music but what he wrote has a pungency and vitality that few of his contemporaries possessed. So too this sextet, of which its advocates took full advantage: violinist Erin Keefe, violist Lily Francis, cellist Robert deMaine, clarinetist Sean Osborn, French hornist Jeffrey Fair and pianist Adam Neiman. The playing was coherent and accurate.
During the pre-concert recital Neiman and Osborn offered some of their own music. The opening gesture, composed last year, was a pair of elegies by Neiman for voice and piano, latter transcribed for clarinet and piano. They are knee-deep in romantic flavors and very successful in their melodic and harmonic allure and deft writing for the clarinet. Obsorn’s E-flat Sonata, written in 1999, was composed for E-flat Clarinet. Osborn knows well the particular attributes of the instrument, quite different from its siblings — clarinets tuned to A and B-flat and the bass clarinet — and exploited them with considerable finesse.