Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Mixon Hall
June 29
Dunham Tavern
June 30

Refined music with a rustic touch at Dunham Tavern.

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house at either of the concluding ChamberFest concerts. And truth to tell, there weren’t many throughout the rest of the festival. That speaks to smart organizing skills and marketing savvy, but more importantly, reaffirms the timeless appeal of quality programming performed by high-caliber players.

The template that worked so well came to the fore again on Friday night, with traditional chamber works by Haydn and Brahms setting the stage for a blowout reduction of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The former kept the traditionalists happy, while Stravinsky still pushed the envelope, fully 100 years (to the day) after Parisians hissed and booed what is now regarded as one of the most influential musical works of the 20th century.

After a heavy modern workout on Friday, pianist Matan Porat brought a lyrical quality to Haydn’s Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello (XV:28), embellished nicely by violinist Noah Bendix-Balgley and cellist Tanya Ell. The interpretation was straightforward but the tempo and sound were seductive, if a bit mechanical at times.

Brahms’ Quintet for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola and Cello (Op. 115) was perhaps the most emotional piece of the entire festival – not surprising, given its dedication to ChamberFest Managing Director Christina Gaston, who died unexpectedly in April. The piece lends itself to muted strings and the somber tones struck by clarinetist Franklin Cohen, though the emotional intensity that he and violinists Yehonatan Berick and Diana Cohen, violist Dimitri Murrath and cellist Robert deMaine brought to their performance was striking. A virtuoso closing fade evoked a passing moment, and life, beautifully.

There were only four players for the Rite of Spring reduction, but their two pianos and dual percussion sets filled the entire stage. And the piece lost nothing in power or impact, with Porat and Orion Weiss providing seamless, interlocking keyboard lines, backed by explosive punctuation from Alexander Cohen and Scott Christian. It was fascinating to hear the work broken down into its component parts, which sounded no less radical sans orchestration. And no less primal – a reflection of the precision and quality of the playing.

Sunday’s closing concert offered a warm contrast, not just to the fireworks of Saturday night, but in the setting and scope: British and German works played in an American barn. Or more precisely, Dunham Tavern, the restored 19th-century settlers’ home and stagecoach stop on Euclid Ave. Rebuilt after the original burned down in 1963, the new barn offers an open, rustic wooden space that produces a surprisingly rich, full sound.

Two brief sweeteners to start: A Fantasia in F major and Chaconne by Purcell, played with spirit and zest by violinists Noah Bendix-Balgley, Amy Schwartz Moretti, cellist Tanya Ell and violists Yu Jin and Yehonatan Berick. Ell had some particularly nice lines in the Chaconne, showing how to put a lilt in the low end.

Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 (Op. 36) has some structural ties to Purcell, but those are quickly forgotten in this work’s endlessly fascinating and unconventional tones, textures and colors. It calls for superb technical command, which violinist Diana Cohen and cellist Julie Albers showed in several skillful turns. Violinist Schwartz Moretti and violist Murrath were even better, playing solos and lead lines with virtuoso precision and flair.

Schwartz Moretti was also a standout in the first violin seat for Mendelssohn’s Quintet No. 1 for Two Violins, Two Violas and Cello (Op. 18), playing with tenderness and careful attention to detail. The piece starts with focused intensity but lightens up as it progresses, and violinist Bendix-Balgley, violists Berick and Murrath, and cellist Robert deMaine joined in bringing it to an exuberant, impassioned finish.

Interestingly, the predominant feeling among the ChamberFest staff as the audience gathered in the garden for après-concert ice cream was, “We’re so sad!” Riding an emotional high usually ends with a bumpy landing, though the staff wasn’t alone. The energy of the festival came not just from the dazzling performances onstage, but from a full schedule of talks, socials and special events that made the audience part of the action. So the letdown was a shared emotion. And the festival set standards that the Cohens will be hard-pressed to top in 2014.

For more on Dunham Tavern: http://dunhamtavern.org/

For a video of Pierre Boulez discussing and conducting The Rite of Spring: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAI_Id4ve-M

Photo by Gary Adams

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