Chesapeake Music recently concluded its 36th annual Chamber Music Festival. Held in its new permanent home, the recently-renovated Ebenezer Theater in Easton, Maryland, the six concerts were directed by cellist Marcy Rosen and violinist Catherine Cho and featured repertory that ranged from Haydn and Mozart to Still and Bolcom. Musicians and audience members alike were thrilled by the return of in-house concerts, which were also streamed. As Executive Director Donald Buxton remarked, “The interconnection between the musicians and the audience was palpable. The musicians couldn’t wait to perform for our loyal audience, and when they did, the energy level was really something!”
The “Opening Extravaganza” kicked off the Festival with Mozart’s often neglected G-major piano trio. Rosen and Cho were joined by pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, and together they quickly established a quick-witted, quasi-operatic instrumental dialogue. After an emotional performance of Webern’s Langsamer Satz, performed by Peggy Pearson, Catherine Cho, Francesca dePasquale, Molly Carr, and Peter Stumpf, the concert concluded brilliantly with Dvořák’s 2nd piano quartet in E-flat major with dynamic pianist Diane Walsh joining dePasquale, Carr, and Stumpf. This complex and demanding work received a sensitive and compelling performance, filled with heartfelt lyrical phrasing, toughing simplicity, and a beautiful opening to the slow movement from cellist Peter Stumpf.
The second concert was considerably more intimate in nature, consisting of compositions for two instruments and featuring under-represented composers and works that are just now beginning to gain in popularity on the concert stage. Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ 3rd sonata in A major for two violins brought back dePasquale and Cho, who performed with lyrical expressiveness in the slow movement and with a bright energy in the outer movements. Walsh and Cho performed William Grant Still’s ‘’Mother and Child’’ from his 1943 suite for violin and piano, beautifully emphasizing the lullaby-like nature of this piece. This was followed by William Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost Rag, performed by oboist Peggy Pearson and pianist Jokubaviciute, and Amy Beach’s Romance for Violin and Piano, Op. 23, again with Walsh and Cho. The concert concluded with Jokubaviciute and Walsh playing two of Schumann’s compositions for piano, four hands, on Chesapeake Music’s newly refurbished Steinway concert grand. The cool logic of the staggered voices of his Six Studies in Canon Form had a mesmerizing beauty in this performance. The concert concluded with Schumann’s poetic Bilder aus Osten, with the performance again full of imaginative touches.
The third concert offered a bravura closure to the first Festival week with Haydn’s Trio No. 30 in F Major for oboe, cello, and piano (Pearson, Rosen, and Walsh), Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor (dePasquale, Carr, and Stumpf), and Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, (Jokubaviciute, dePasquale, Carr, and Rosen). In all three, there was a close and subtle rapport among the players, and the performances were inventive, spontaneous, and expressive. Both the Beethoven and the Schumann brought the audience to their feet, and the poignant, singing quality of the Schumann andante cantabile movement was admirably brought out by the highly articulate playing.
Clarinetist Lawrie Bloom joined in for the fourth concert, performing Brahms’ revered late B-minor clarinet quintet with Cho, Rosen, and brothers Todd and Daniel Phillips, two members of the prestigious Orion String Quartet. The ensemble’s moderate pacing of the score and especially the intimately friendly tone of the clarinet embraced the ample warmth and sweet sorrow of Brahms’ melodies down to the sobering final chord. The entire Orion Quartet (including Steven Tenenbom and Timothy Eddy) then made their Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival debut with Beethoven’s 3rd Razumovsky string quartet (Op. 59). The Quartet played together superbly, creating interwoven sonic textures while establishing a real sense of dialogue.
The fifth concert brought the concert grand piano back into the spotlight. Mozart’s 5th piano trio in C major began the program (Walsh, Cho, and Eddy). The performers opened confidently with the strings playing assertive octaves and Walsh’s piano offering touchingly delicate responses. Flutist Tara Helen O’Connor next joined Daniel Phillips and Tenenbom in Beethoven’s delightful serenade in D major (Op. 25). Though the movements are generally airy and light, the ensemble’s playing quickly created sophisticated “conversations” between flute and strings while maintaining a perfect sound homogeneity among the “protagonists.” To conclude the program, Diane Walsh (primo) and Robert McDonald (secondo) performed Schubert’s Fantasia for Piano, Four Hands in F minor (Op. 103, D. 940). In this work of almost symphonic form, the two pianists played together so superbly that their interpretations were almost inseparable into individual elements. From the beginning, they brilliantly created the elegiac atmosphere, so necessary to the piece, which sets the tone for the entire work.
The Festival’s finale opened with Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio in B-flat Major. Walsh, Bloom, and Rosen gave a sparkling performance, especially in the kaleidoscopic variations of the “Gassenhauer” third movement. Notable was Rosen’s expressive playing of the principal theme in the Adagio on her exceptionally beautiful 1720 Tecchler cello. Following this was Prokofiev’s Sonata in D Major for Flute and Piano performed by O’Connor and Walsh. They expertly executed Prokofiev’s bold harmonic innovations and unusual tone palette, and they brilliantly swept through the movements with incredible power and feeling but also with fluid agility and a seeming insouciant playfulness. The concert and the Festival concluded with Brahms’ monumental piano quintet in F minor. The Orion String Quartet was back for this performance joined by Robert McDonald. Their performance boldly established a solid structure for Brahms’ multiple melodic lines and juxtapositions of thematic fragments, which created a dense interplay of counterpoint. The assertiveness of their playing generated a real sense of occasion in the hall, clearly announcing through the Brahms score that something important was happening – a fitting conclusion to an impressive Chamber Music Festival.