Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival begins with 'A Muse of Fire'

Wu Han and David Finckel
Chamber Music Northwest's 43rd annual Summer Festival kicked off at Kaul Auditorium on the Reed College campus at 8pm on Monday, June 24th. Longtime executive director Linda Magee stepped down after 33 years, and interim executive director Elizabeth Harcombe gave the opening remarks. The evening featured three works for piano, cello and clarinet, with Wu Han, David Finckel, and CMNW stalwart David Shifrin playing those instruments, respectively.

The night began with Beethoven's Trio in B-Flat Major, Op. 11. An early work, it was very straightforward and delightful to hear. Finckel appeared to be having a lark--playing much of the opening movement in a spritely saltando with an infectious giddiness that did nothing to overshadow Han's dazzling fireworks on the piano, betraying deft melodic sensibility. Shifrin's playing was sometimes overpowering in the opening movements, but by the third movement, a sort of scherzo that featured a delightful fughetta, all players found the proper alignment; all in all this work was great fun and a nice way to open the festival.

Four pieces from Bruch's Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola (Cello) and Piano, Op. 83 rounded out the first half. Finckel's touch again seemed to steal the show in the opening Nachtgesang, filling the hall with a dark, glorious cantabile that continued on through the second movement, which was like a somber lied, and the third, an andante con moto wherein the cello ranged from mournful to angry. Shifrin and Finckel seemed to trade arias, a series of contrasting monologues in which the cello kept up its threnody while the clarinet spoke in opposition, providing an emotional counterpoint through brief, poignant moments of hope, almost angelic in quality.

The second half was composed entirely of Brahms' Trio in A Minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114. A stormy opening gave way shortly to contemplative reflection. Finckel never let one phrase pass without investing it fully with meaning from the seemingly bottomless palette at his fingertips, but the ensemble playing was also more deliciously evident in the Brahms from all players.

In the second movement this unity of ensemble was especially clear--intimate, unaffected playing, the sort of performance wherein the individual players stand aside and the music is clearly heard. Three superb musicians playing instruments of such different timbres coming together in such a way that it becomes difficult to tell where one instrument stops and another begins--now that is a rare beauty, and the Andantino grazioso provided the framework for that to happen. Gracious indeed; CMNW's Summer Festival should once again provide a month of incredible music if the opening concert is any indication.

No comments: