Brahms Quintet Spotlights Olympic Festival Director

United StatesUnited States Wolf, Beethoven, and Brahms: Charles Weatherbee and John Ewing (violins); Korine Fujiwara and Alan Iglitzin (violas); David Hardy (cello); Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 21.7.2012 (BJ)

The second of Brahms’s two string quintets, Opus 111 in G major, makes a perfect vehicle for Olympic Music Festival founder and director Alan Iglitzin to display his undimmed skill as a violist. Not merely in the gorgeously succulent second theme of the first movement, in which he takes obvious delight, but throughout this mature and inexhaustibly varied masterpiece, he occupies the first viola chair to splendid effect.

That was so almost exactly three years ago, and it was so again this time around, with four different colleagues but with no loss of precision in ensemble or of intensity in expression. Festival regulars Charles Weatherbee and Korine Fujiwara played first violin and second viola with their familiar expertise and with the kind of seemingly spontaneous interaction that makes chamber music-making such a pleasure to witness; John Ewing took his place as second violinist with comparable artistry; and David Hardy deployed a cello sound so warm and solid as to make light of the balance problem at the work’s premiere in 1890, in which  the Rosé Quartet’s cellist Reinhold Hummer, though noted for the power of his tone, despaired of making the first theme audible.

Perhaps coincidentally—though this may have been deliberately set up by Iglitzin’s savvy programming—the other main work on the program was an especially appropriate companion piece for the Brahms. The slow movements of Beethoven’s F-major “Rasumovsky” Quartet, Op. 5, No. 1 and of Brahms’s Op. 111 begin with almost identical melodic figures, and it was fascinating to observe how differently these two Adagios then proceed—the Beethoven with some telling accents to dramatize its effect; the Brahms, characteristically, in a more inward yet no less eloquent tone.

Here too the musicians (minus Iglitzin) played with impressive emotional commitment and technical expertise. The sheer breadth of this, the first Beethoven quartet after his early Opus 18 set, was made majestically clear—and the curiously hybrid second movement, with its “Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando” marking, was thrown off with delicious wit. Wit was also abundant in Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade, which had begun the afternoon with a performance that realized its modest attractions better than any I can recall hearing before.

Bernard Jacobson