Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chamber Music Northwest closes its Summer Festival with concertos by Bach, Mozart

Andre Watts
Sunday, July 26th saw the  grand finale of  Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival at the Lincoln Performance Hall at Portland State University. Festival musicians, members of groups playing at the festival and honored soloists all shared the stage in a varied program consisting of three concertos by J.S. Bach as well as Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K 271.

The chamber ensembles consisted of anywhere from 7-14 players including the soloist, and began with Bach's Concerto for Three Violins in D Major, BWV 1064 R, an arrangement by Rudolf Baumgartner. The soloists were Angelo Xiang Yu, Joel Link and Bryan Lee. They played a lively arrangement; spritely and not too thin. The balance was sometimes in question between concertante and ripieno, with the accompaniment often drowned out. The fiddlers three attacked the work with gusto, and a bit of a deliciously rustic technique. In the third movement the shared cadenza with tremolo being passed from one soloist to the next was exciting to hear.

The second work, Bach's Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041 was dramatically different in tenor and execution. It was immediately obvious that Soloist Yura Lee had an idea in mind for the entire work, and that idea was original and brilliant. Her deft explorations of dynamic intensity were captivating, and without the proper blend from the scaled-down, insightful and attentive chamber orchestra her interpretation could never have worked. In the Andante there was a moment were anyone who heard must have, as I did, waited with baited breath for the evolution of one single  note from niente to full strength, and all throughout her ability to create deep, meaningful phrasing, often through the use of extreme and intense dynamic variation, lent a rich and broad meaning to the piece. Her take on this well-known work was fascinating and original--daring overall, especially in its fearless restraint.
Yura Lee

Bach's Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060R was a bit labored in the ripieno--there were slight but noticeable inconsistencies in tempo throughout, until the final Allegro was reached when all the players finally seemed to come together, displaying crisp part-work and integration with the soloists.

The second half consisted entirely of the Mozart piano concerto, with the venerable maestro Andre Watts taking the stage as soloist. The good-sized orchestra, featuring 13 players plus the soloist, featured some fine ensemble playing and equilibrium, and nice doublings between horns and oboes. Watts had a very free-flowing, almost carefree style. However, the piece as a whole would have benefited from a more brisk tempo and cleaner lines from the soloist--often important phrases felt muddied by over-pedaling on the piano. Though it is historical practice for the soloist to direct from the instrument, this piece could have used a non-performing conductor. Still, Watt's playing was sweetly sentimental and displayed an apt, melancholy longing during the Andantino that was a joy to hear.

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