The 34th annual Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival opened its two-week run Tuesday on as glorious an afternoon-into-evening as you could imagine or hope for—particularly considering this “Festival Opening Extravaganza” was followed by an outdoor wine-and-hors-d’oeuvres reception at Mason’s Redux, a short stroll down Harrison Street from the Christ Church concert venue.
Before the music commenced—performed with panache by pianist Robert McDonald, violinist Catherine Cho and cellist Marcy Rosen—festival co-founder and co-artistic director Rosen was honored as an endowed cello chair providing scholarships in her name by Michael and Ella Bracy. (Rosen’s fellow founder/director, clarinetist J. Lawrie Bloom, has announced his retirement from his festival role. Cho will succeed him in 2020.)
To get the near-capacity audience in tune, Jonathan Palevsky, WBJC radio host of “Opera Today” and “Music in Maryland,” offered a primer on the main-course selections: Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 4 (he wrote 10 in all) and Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Opus 90 “Dumky.” Beethoven, described as “irascible” by Palevsky, was experiencing the early onset of eventual total deafness as he wrote his fourth violin sonata in 1796. Dvorak, “the sort of guy you’d like to have a beer with,” Palevsky said, dubbed his fourth and final trio “Dumky” after the plural for the Russian word “dumka,” a literary term denoting lament and melancholy.
More on musical lamentations later. First, the festival’s opening chamber piece by newly hard-of-hearing Beethoven: The sonata’s presto movement features McDonald’s tumbling piano syncopation, grounding wind-swept violin chords as if a storm is brewing. The middle-movement scherzo suggests an ecclesiastical call-and-response evolving into a less formal keyboard-and-strings conversation. The concluding allegro picks up the tempo in sprints, interspersed with notes of quiet reflection, before a furious head-shaking pace by Cho settles into a placid finish.
By comparison, Dvorak’s “Dumky” was more challenging and, to my ear, more emotionally inspired than standard Beethoven, however brilliantly written and beautifully played. Its six movements begin with teardrop piano accompaniment to weeping violin and cello waves. A dramatic shift evokes a staccato piano riptide countered by long, almost moaning, bowstring glides. A pastoral respite, rolling with downhill momentum tempered with pauses as if to take in the view, anchors one of the most affecting middle movements, performed with deft timing and touch by the Rosen-Cho-McDonald trio. It’s followed by a march cadence on piano introducing a violin-and-cello leitmotif and a running-the-rapids buoyancy that swirls into a becalmed pool of—what?—contentment or resignation? The finale mixes many of the preceding themes without repeating them verbatim with a departing note of defiance that might also be heard as triumphant.
Certainly, the performance of this accomplished and attuned-to-one-another festival trio was triumphant.
Wednesday’s open rehearsal offered a free peek into upcoming festival concerts, focusing again on Dvorak, this time his first piano quartet to be played at Sunday’s gala. Next up is “Romantic Interlude” Thursday, with music by Louise Farrenc, a rare 19th-century female composer, along with pieces by some of the usual male suspects, Brahms and Debussy, featuring harpist June Han, who also plays in Saturday’s concert.
Steve Parks is a retired arts critic and editor now living in Easton.
Chesapeake Chamber Music Festival
“Romantic Interlude,” Farrenc, Debussy, Brahms; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 6, Academy Art Museum, Easton
“Spotlight: Flute and Harp,” Kuhlah, Ravel, David Bruce, von Weber; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8, Prager Auditorium, Easton
Festival Gala (concert, reception, silent auction), Mozart, Debussy, Dvorak; 4 p.m. Sunday, June 9 Temple B’Nai Israel, Easton
“Love Story,” Clara and Robert Schumann; 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 12, Academy Art Museum, Easton
“From Rags to Riches” (concert, reception), Schubert, Brahms, Mozart, Lilburn, John Psathas, William Bolcom, George Gershwin; 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13, Christ Church, Cambridge
“Romancing and Dancing,” Clara Schumann, Ravel, Bartok, Dvorak; 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 14, Trinity Cathedral, Easton
“The Art of the String Quartet” (concert, reception), Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann; 4 p.m. Saturday, June 15, Oxford Community Center
Also, free open rehearsal, 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 11, Academy Art Museum, Easton
Tickets/info: 410-819-0380, chesapeakemusic.org