Olympic Music Festival 2011 – Greater and Lesser Works Realized with Equally Compelling Musicianship

United StatesUnited States  Beethoven, Dvořák, and Brahms, et al: Paul Hersh (piano), Teddy Abrams (clarinet), Amy Barston (cello), Megumi Stohs (violin), Alan Iglitzin (viola); Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA. 6.8.2010 (BJ)

The two clarinet trios that began and ended this program, and the piano quartet they book-ended, are works that display differing measures of mastery, but all three were played with consummate skill and artistry.

By the side of Brahms’s late and great Clarinet Trio, Beethoven’s early essay in the same genre ranks as relatively minor. It is music of pervasive sparkle, not especially profound in the outer movements. The central Adagio, however, is a perfectly magical piece, its theme a tune set in the cello’s most succulent register, and grounded so firmly in the cardinal points of the tonal compass that even listeners hearing it for the first time are likely to feel they have known it all their lives. “Succulent” is certainly an appropriate adjective to describe the way cellist Amy Barston delivered herself of this bewitching melody – her already sumptuous tone seems to have taken on even more depth and glow since I heard her last. The clarinet part was played with no less assurance by Teddy Abrams, who, though still only in his mid-20s, was celebrating his ninth successive season at the Olympic Music Festival, and in partnership with pianist Paul Hersh these two fashioned a performance that did full justice to the brilliant elements in the piece, and at the end of the Adagio evoked from the audience the kind of breathless silence that is an all too rare form of appreciation.

In his introductory remarks before the trio, Hersh associated the atmosphere of the work with the Four Serious Songs, composed around the same time, and the performance did indeed illuminate the music’s gravity and depth in full measure. Between these compelling interpretations, we heard the relatively unfamiliar Piano Quartet No. 2, Op. 87, by Dvořák. This is not one of its composer’s most inspired, but there is much in it to enjoy, including a richly melodious slow movement and a charmingly graceful scherzo that is really more of an intermezzo along Brahmsian lines. Here Barston and Hersh were joined by violinist Megumi Stohs, whose tone and technique were admirably clean and crisp, and by festival founder and director Alan Iglitzin, who seems to be playing the viola better than ever these days. The viola was Dvořák‘s own instrument. He entrusted many important passages to it in this work – sometimes a little pointed staccato figure, almost like an interjection in a lively argument; sometimes a sunny sustained melody; sometimes a forcefully propulsive series of triplet rhythms – and Iglitzin presented all of them with equal vigor and firmness.

Bernard Jacobson