By Philippa Kiraly
Despite concerns and trepidation over its move from the bucolic ambiance of Lakeside School to the urban Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya, Seattle Chamber Music Society’s summer festival there has been an undoubted success.
It managed to fill, mostly, over 100 seats more than Lakeside has for each concert and recital. It has brought in a variety of new audience members, including tourists dropping in. And the concerts have been enthusiastically received, despite the sometimes sabotaging effect of the hall’s dry acoustics and the really poor quality piano provided.
While the picnicking area in the Garden of Remembrance suffers from traffic noise, the decibel level in the Nordstrom lobby during intermissions makes some concert goers try to duck out downstairs or by heading to the main Benaroya lobby, and the free lemonade and coffee are missed, these are just peripheral losses.
Friday saw the last Seattle concert of the season. Next Wednesday the Festival opens at its Eastside venue, The Overlake School in Redmond, where the bucolic ambiance is in full force.
Pianist Anton Nel, appearing for his 21st season and a favorite among musicians, audience and critics alike, gave the recital. The program was entirely Chopin, and performed so exquisitely, musically, and thoughtfully that it would have been enough satisfaction for the whole evening.
Weber’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in B Flat Major is really a mini-concerto for the wind instrument, with string accompaniment. It’s a virtuoso role, ranging at full speed from top to bottom of the instrument with extraordinary pianissimos, all of it achieved by Sean Osborn with apparent ease. Loud passages on his top notes tended to be severely painful to the eardrums, not uncommon in that hall.
A complete contrast came as violinist Ida Levin and Nel played Witold Lutoslawski’s Partita. Where the Weber is all scintillating sparkles and expressive charm, Lutoslawski’s 1984 work starts angry and in-your-face, and ends with frenzy, though it simmers down in the middle. Like Shostakovich, Lutoslawski was a composer who suffered under Soviet oppression, and you hear it in his music. Levin and Nel captured the spirit well, making it an uncomfortable work to hear—rather like a superb painting of a difficult situation (e.g. Munch’s “The Scream”) that draws you in despite yourself.
The two musicians seemed to be thinking as one and playing as such, even in the ad lib sections where one might expect some discrepancies. It was a brilliant performance and recognized as such by the audience.
The performance ended with Dvorak’s Trio for violin (Stefan Jackiw), cello (newcomer Jeremy Turner) and piano (Ran Dank), a dramatic, expansive work. Written just 100 years befor the Lutoslawski, it’s in high romantic style, full of melody. The second movement, ‘allegretto grazioso,’ is particularly delightful with its cross rhythms and quirks. Turner shone in the third movement where the cello and violin are in duet together, but Jackiw pushed his instrument unnecessarily through much of the work, creating a hard cutting sound. Dank is a pianist we hope to hear more of, always musically thoughtful in approach and with a light expressive touch which can nevertheless deliver excitement where needed.
The festival begins again Wednesday in Redmond, for five concerts.
Tickets at seattlechambermusic.org. Subscriptions (10 percent discount) are available for all five concerts for $200 or three concerts for $120. Single tickets are $44 or $38, or $10 for young music lovers ages 25 and under or students with ID. All seats are reserved for main series concerts. Tickets for the August 12 Family Concert are $12 for general admission.