All was well with the world last weekend when a trio of longtime Aspen Music Festival favorites breathed life into Beethoven’s triple concerto in front of the season’s biggest audience in the Benedict Music Tent, and the chamber music returned to Harris Hall, albeit briefly.
The triple concerto essentially puts a chamber trio – in this case violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan – in front of a full orchestra with the kind of outgoing music that can fill a large space like the tent. It was a completely satisfying performance, and the communication between the soloists was exuberant and joyful.
Weilerstein was key, his playing setting the trio’s statement in motion time and time again. She opened the ball with a tender statement of the theme, which Jackiw picked up on with his own graceful version, Barnatan completing the picture with his signature delicate touch. As the level of intensity increased and decreased, with and without an orchestra, their virtuosity and dynamic range followed the rhythm of Ludovic Morlot’s precise direction, and the concerto flowed as smooth as the polished wood of the violin of Jackiw. The sense of unity and purpose manifested through the magnificent Largo and up to the bouncy final.
The concert began with ‘The Spark Catchers’, a nervous nine-minute symphonic poem by English composer Hannah Kendall, based on an evocative 2012 poem about an 1888 strike at a match factory in London. As part of the festival’s renewed effort to present the music of black artists (in this case both poet and composer), the orchestra performed the irregular rhythms and luminous flashes of harmony to create an atmosphere of terror on beauty background.
In between, Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements (1946) reveled in its own punchy rhythms, and it got a lively performance. Pianist Noah Sonderling in the first movement and harpist Nancy Allen in the second contributed virtuoso solos (the movements originally intended for concertos that were never completed), and group effort in the finale. achieved all of the goals.
On Saturday afternoon at Harris Hall, a group of longtime professionals from the Aspen Music Festival presented a DvoÅÃ¡k Piano Quintet in A major for the ages, a revelation as every nuance emerged with striking clarity and presence. in the 500-seat auditorium.
At its best, chamber music relies on communication that goes far beyond synchronized timing, dynamics, and all of the other elements of musical creation. After practicing together for years, members of large string quartets develop a sixth sense of what their colleagues are going to do, transforming a performance into something unexpected and wonderful.
In this season’s first faculty chamber music program, something like this entered Bing Wang, Espen LilleslÃ¥tten, James Dunham, Desmond Hoebig, and Anton Nel, who have performed together here for decades of summers. Almost two years since they last performed together, their musical undertones were breathtaking. It begins with cellist Hoebig’s warm and generous statement on the sweet major theme. The response from Wang’s first violin swept through the air with even more tenderness. Pianist Nel provided smooth, perfectly synchronized chords. The gentle pulsation of the Allegro ma non tanto of the first movement framed the masterful interweaving of DvoÅÃ¡k’s musical material, LilleslÃ¥tten’s violin and Dunham’s viola shifting the flow with a sense of inevitability.
These details floated effortlessly from the stage into the perfect acoustics of the 500-seat theater, a marked difference from the chamber music in the large tent next door. The contrast between the painful melodic gestures of the second movement and the vivacious Molto Czech dance of the third movement shifted the colors from sadness to joy, their sense of total unity marking an Allegro finale that threatened to burst its seams while keeping everything pointed in the same direction.
The group that played Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet in F sharp minor had a difficult number to follow. Rough intonation moments in ensemble passages aside, the individual talents of first violin Robert Chen, cellist Eric Kim and, most importantly, the supple playing of clarinetist Michael Rusinek prevailed. Coleridge-Taylor, England’s foremost black composer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was inspired by Brahms’ clarinet quintet, and the complexity of his work deserved to be appreciated.
The ghost of Joseph Bologne, knight of St. George, another black European composer and pioneer in his time, permeated the program of Friday’s Chamber Symphony, conducted with his usual verve by Nicholas McGegan. Bologna, contemporary of Mozart and often compared to him, wrote the brief opening in three movements of his opera of 1780 “The Anonymous Armant” which opened the program. He also conducted the French orchestra which commissioned the six âParisianâ symphonies of Josef Haydn, including n Â° 82, which closed the program. In between, Stephen Waarts played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.3, giving us the opportunity to compare Bologna to its most famous contemporaries.
Waarts, who has forged a solid reputation in Europe for his breadth of repertoire and effortless technique, offered a sober version of Mozart’s concerto, emphasizing softness and simplicity, even in solo moments. where he could have shown himself. Despite McGegan’s best efforts, the opening overture, while lively, was far more predictable than Mozart’s concerto or Haydn’s symphony, which bounced like a friendly bear rolling down one of the Aspen mountains.
In this endeavor, the Aspen debut of Julia Bullock, who presents herself as a classical singer instead of a soprano, was an exotic outlier with “Four Hindu Poems.” Passionate about Indian music, 20th century French composer Maurice Delage used winds and a string quartet to mimic the sounds of Indian instruments accompanying four songs based on flowery romantic poems.
Bullock sang with a magnificent tone and special attention to French poetry (which she herself brilliantly translated for the program sheet), her sound effortlessly rising above the wind instruments. Particularly alluring were the extravagant melisma flourishes at the end of the longest song in the center of the room.
NOT TO BE MISSED IN THE NEXT DAYS
RenÃ©e Fleming’s highly anticipated performance of jazz artist Maria Schneider’s magnificent âWinter Morning Walksâ song cycle headlines Friday’s Chamber Symphony concert, conducted by Robert Spano. Before that, all the weekend soloists return for solo concerts – Bullock in recital on Tuesday, Waarts (and McGegan) in a Brandenburg concert on Wednesday, and the Beethoven sonatas of the Sunday trio on Thursday. Take your pick or go for all.
Harvey Steiman has been writing on the Aspen Music Festival for 28 years. His reviews appear Tuesdays and Saturdays in The Aspen Times.