In an alternate (maybe even perfect) universe unfamiliar composers and works would be cat nip for curious ears looking to expand their musical horizons. Dissonances would pleasantly shake listeners. We’d tap our toes to awkward rhythms and take pleasure in sorting out difficult melodies. Seats would be filled. People would be turned away at the door only to hear an enlivened retelling of the experience from their friends luck enough to get inside the concert hall. An excited audience reaction would launch outlying repertory into the mainstream.
Judging by Wednesday’s Seattle Chamber Music Society concert – which featured Zoltan Kodaly’s Op. 7 Duo for Violin and Cello and Frank Martin’s Piano Quintet – the alternate universe I proposed is still a long way off. Too many seats sat empty and the audience’s response, while effusive (a standing ovation after every piece) seemed obligatory – polite.
When I considered the summer festival’s schedule of concerts back in May, Wednesday’s Kodaly and Martin line-up, prefaced by Chopin’s wondrous Sonata for Cello and Piano, and a smidgen of Dvorak in the middle, was a must hear event. The choice of repertory and skillful deployment of performers seemed destined to produce an evening of music worth remembering.
Each of the three pieces on the program featured wisely assembled groupings of musicians. Cellist Bion Tsang and violinist James Ehnes – two string players at the peak of their musical powers – handled the Kodaly duo. Kodaly’s taut rhythms skipped and static grumblings emanated dramatically from the duo.
Antonin Dvorak’s Op. 21 Piano Trio benefited from the sculpted technique of violinist Nurit Bar-Josef and cellist Edward Arron. Ran Dank, who made his debut with the festival last season, is a pianist I want to hear more of. His piano accompaniment was well-judged and suited the precise, but not overwhelming, style of Arron and Bar-Josef. Dank plays a solo recital later in the festival featuring Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata. Another must hear event. All recitals are free and open to the public.
Young violinists Andrew Wan and Augustin Hadelich led the final piece of the night – Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Piano Quintet. Wan and Hadelich weren’t alone, festival veterans: violist Richard O’Neill, cellist Robert deMaine, and pianist Adam Neiman augmented Hadelich and Wan’s efforts. DeMaine supplied wrenching, ample musical depth on his cello. Martin’s viola part – because of O’Neill – sobbed intensely, pushing through a thatch of counterpoint to make its point. Martin’s quintet fits the carriage and demeanor of other pieces heard during past chamber festivals like Dohnanyi’s Sextet and two piano quintets, and Bloch’s Piano Quintet No. 2. They all share a common mix of sorrow and happiness which trend toward skeptical conclusions.
Even Edward Arron and Adam Neiman’s pre-concert recital performance of Fredric Chopin’s Cello Sonata stood out with its effortlessly flowing melodies. It’s rare to have concert where the pieces, performers, and performances work well together and are as well played as they were on Wednesday.
In an alternate universe, more people would have heard this concert. More people would be gushing over its successes. Since this wasn’t the reality on Wednesday, my gushing will have to do.