Mozart to Barber Wednesday Night at Festival

Anton Nel

By R.M. Campbell

There has been so much to admire in the concerts that I’ve attended at the Seattle Chamber Music Festival this season at Nordstrom Recital Hall, it seems redundant to say so yet again. But it is the truth.

As always there are musicians making their festival debut. A more significant new element is the hall, a vast improvement on the dreary acoustics of St. Nicholas Hall at Lakeside School where the festival most of past few decades. This is the festival’s first season at Nordstrom. The more one hears at Nordstrom — the clarity and vibrancy of sound — the more one appreciates the virtues of the new venue. When the festival leaves Seattle next week for Overlake School in Redmond, there will be no lapse in acoustical values. The hall is excellent.

On Wednesday violinist Ida Levin and pianist Anton Nel held forth in music of Mozart and Smetana in the pre-concert recital. They are both festival veterans who bring depth of experience and technical facility to whatever they tackle. Although Mozart’s G Major Sonata (K. 379) did not have an ounce of period flavor, it had charm and wit. It provided Levin an opportunity to bring the nuances of her musicianship to the fore. She did not overpower the music nor make it too genteel. She was just as effective in dramatic statements as she was in the Adagio. Mozart was not ungenerous to the pianist. Nel, as usual, was a good partner, dutiful but not too dutiful, and rose to the challenges of the Theme and Variations that constitutes the final movement. The Smetana, two character pieces titled “Aus der Heimat” were full of folk spirit so typical of the composer. Levin and Nel gave them a full measure of robust expressiveness and romantic appeal.

The concert opened with Dvorak’s Terzetto for two violins and viola. With violinists Stefan Jackiw and Emily Daggett Smith and violist Richard O’Neill, the work had very, very good advocates. And it shined with brightness and warmth. Jackiw gave the work his full attention, providing romantic ardor and glistening tone. O’Neill makes the viola a solo instrument. He provides breadth and a big, penetrating sound. Smith was a good partner to the two virtuosos.

The festival does not always pay tributes to various anniversaries of famous composers. This year, the centenary of Samuel Barber, born in 1910 who died 71 years later, is being observed. His String Quartet, composed 1936, was performed in the first week and Cello Sonata, written a few years earlier, was given a taut performance Wednesday night by cellist Jeremy Turner and pianist Ran Dank. There are any number of striking passages in the work, all of which Turner and Dank, new to the festival this summer, found.

Mozart’s Andante and Variations, written for piano, four hands. is a trifle but an enchanting one, a little sorbet between the Barber and Brahms. Nel and Dank found the bits of gold in the piece and held them up for the audience to admire. Brahms’ Piano Trio in C brought the evening to a close. With Levin, Robert deMaine as cellist and Nel, the work was given its full measure of bombast, romantic flair and technical brilliance. The work has often been performed in previous seasons, but it never sounded quite this good. Thank you, Nordstrom.

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