Barber and Brahms are the program this weekend at Benaroya

R.M. Campbell

There weren’t many people at Bernaroya Hall Thursday night (alas): The music deserved better.

The two highlights were Stefan Jackiw in Barber’s Violin Concerto and Arnold Schoenberg’s orchestral transcription of Brahms’ G Minor Piano Quartet.

The Barber represents the composer at his most romantic, with one lush tune following the other and the phrases long and limpid. Jackiw, who has phenomenal gifts, took readily to the material with a gorgeous, smooth tone and very fast fingers. Nothing seems to disturb this young musician’s aplomb in which everything sounds natural and easy. He made the most of the slender materials that Barber provided as if they were silk. In response to generous applause, Jackiw played the Largo from Bach’s Third Sonata for solo violin. His amazing calm and self-possession did not dessert him. Lucky for us, he appears in Seattle during summers at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, where he is equally adept. He is one of the bright young breed brought to the festival by violinist James Ehnes — a soloist with the SSO a week ago — the festival’s associate artistic director.

Schoenberg’s amazing transcription of the Brahms for full orchestra is not that often heard on the concert stage. It is well-known in the pit as the music for Balanchine’s compelling dance of the same name. Twyla Tharp’s setting of the music was commissioned by Pacific Northwest Ballet and premiered last season. The piano quartet is part of the canon of Brahms’ chamber music and is often performed. It is a piece of great depth and musical interest, with the piano and strings playing off each other with rare abandon. Schoenberg treats the music with evident sympathy for the symphonic form as well as its chamber music origins. Gerald Schwarz gave the dual frame equal attention, but ultimately one felt the impact of the full orchestra, appropriately enough, and how readily the Brahms slides into it — from drama to introspection.

Barber’s “Meditation and Dance of Vengeance,” written only a short while after the violin concerto, opened the concert. As such it was a good introduction to the concerto itself.

The program will be repeated tonight.

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