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By Philippa Kiraly

By this stage in the winter, many people are starved for more chamber music than they can get from the excellent but not so frequent performances on the UW Chamber Music Series. When Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Winter Festival arrives at Nordstrom Recital Hall, with four recitals and four concerts in four days by superb musicians in a small hall, where every move, every sound, every nuance from every player can be seen and heard close up, it’s like having a long-awaited feast.

This year’s festival began Thursday night. First up was the recital by pianist Adam Neiman, his first of three free recitals—last night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon—of all of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, S.139, in honor of the composer’s bicentennial.

The audience was hungry for these, and you could have heard a mouse whisper in the hall, as he played five Etudes: “Preludio,” “Fusees,” “Paysage,” “Mazeppa” and “Feux-follets.” He prefaced his playing with a description of each and what they portrayed, as well as insightful comments on what he thought Liszt had in mind.

Each of these is horrendously difficult from a technical standpoint, with a myriad notes, dense chords and breakneck speed. Only “Paysage” (“Landscape”) is softer and slower.

It was a tour de force. To each etude Neiman gave thought and understanding, conveying its essence. It was a marvel of brilliant playing, and awe-inspiring to think he will play another seven of these in the other two recitals.

The concert proper had two quintets and a duo, each performance of interest in its own way. Turina’s Quintet, Op.1, written when studying in Paris and indebted to the French school, is an attractive work but without the Spanish stamp his work acquired later. Neiman played this as well as the Liszt, with violinists Scott Yoo and Erin Keefe, violist Emily Daggett Smith making her SCMS debut, and cellist Andres Diaz. Daggett Smith is concertmaster of the Juilliard Orchestra and a founding member of the Tessera Quartet, but what was noticeable here was the very beautiful tone she drew from her viola.

Jeewon Park made an impromptu debut at, to the best of my memory, last summer’s SCMS festival, when the pianist scheduled for a rarely performed work became sick. While festival managers were putting their heads together to work out what to do, cellist Edward Arron volunteered his wife, who was not only here with him and knew the work but, by sheer chance, had recorded it the week before in New York. She filled the vacancy admirably, and from that performance was invited to play at this winter festival.

She and Arron undertook Brahms’ Sonata for cello and piano in F Major. Their singularity of musical thought was obvious. There was never a moment when one of them was not in sync with the other. It’s a rich and substantial sonata, with an intense role for each of them, punctuated with gentler legato sections. Arron has a warm rich tone, which he employed to good advantage without scratching despite his busy, vigorous line, while Park balanced him at all times.

Lastly, we heard Shostakovich’ Quintet for piano and strings in G Minor, which he wrote for himself and the Beethoven Quartet. It’s a sunnier work with more serenity than most of his and with many soft moments, which were sublime in this performance by violinists Stefan Jackiw and Ida Levin, violist Richard O’Neill, cellist Ronald Thomas and pianist William Wolfram. Jackiw’s playing can be very steely on his top notes, but he created exquisite pianissimos, often muted, and matched by all the others. The fourth movement with its rambunctious exuberance was set off by the more peaceful ones on either side.

Remaining concerts are tonight, Saturday and Sunday. A limited number of tickets remaining will be sold at the door. For information call 206-283-8808

7 years ago | Read Full Story
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