Tackling Olympic Chamber Music from Bach to Fauré

United StatesUnited States Bach/Brahms, Beethoven, Fauré: Paul Hersh (piano), Wayne Lee (violin), Alan Iglitzin (viola), Jennifer Culp (cello), Olympic Music Festival, Quilcene, WA, 12.8.2012 (BJ)

Bach/Brahms: Chaconne in D minor for solo violin
Beethoven: String Trio in C minor, Op. 9, No. 3
Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor

Brahms’s magisterial arrangement for piano, left hand, of Bach’s famous D-minor Chaconne for solo violin made a wonderful start to Paul Hersh’s final Olympic Music Festival appearance of the summer. A Festival stalwart for years now, Hersh will yield the piano bench for the final three weeks of the season to his former pupil Julio Elizalde, who has already made his mark strongly at the Quilcene concerts in recent seasons.

But meanwhile, in the Bach/Brahms work, Hersh provided the combined array of limpid tone and probing musicianship that always distinguishes his playing, and then, after intermission, he anchored a compelling performance of Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, partnered with equal commitment by his string-instrument colleagues. The piece is one of the French composer’s finest, admirably lucid in form, and achieving a rare blend of classical restraint with emotional potency. There can be few 19th-century composers more dissimilar than Fauré and (early) Sibelius, yet the slow movement of this quartet seems curiously prophetic of the corresponding movement of Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony, with its gravely ascending melodic curves.

The middle of the program offered the last, Op. 9 No. 3 in C minor, of the five works Beethoven composed for string trio. The medium is much less popular, with composers and performers alike, than the string quartet, and so we hear this piece relatively rarely. But, though dating from before Beethoven’s 28th birthday, it is a fully-fledged masterpiece of stunning maturity. It too benefitted from a consummately skillful and expressive performance.

Festival founder and director Alan Iglitzin’s viola playing is a known quantity, and he was clearly enjoying himself enormously both here and in the Fauré after intermission. Jennifer Culp, on the other hand, is a cellist new to me – she was a member of Iglitzin’s former Philadelphia String Quartet for five years. Her tone was beautifully warm and clean, and she played with a fine sense of chamber-musical give-and-take.

The violinist was the young Wayne Lee, whose sheer élan and often witty phrasing were just what Beethoven’s forceful and richly concentrated writing needed. I thought at this point in the program that his left hand was more impressive than his right – intonation was superbly accurate, but a certain waywardness in the direction of his bow, sometimes moving down almost to the region of the fingerboard, led to a touch or two of unevenness in the actual sound he produced. The Fauré, however, showed just what a splendid musician Lee is, for without losing incisiveness, he played here with meltingly lovely and more consistently focused tone. I hope we shall hear more of him at the Festival in future years.

Bernard Jacobson