By Melinda Bargreen
Mendelssohn magic struck again in the Nordstrom Recital Hall, where the musicians of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival ignited the July 23 audience with the composer’s Trio No. 2. It was the second Mendelssohn trio to raise the hall’s rafters, following a white-hot July 9 performance of Trio No. 1 in D Minor.
This time, it was violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Edward Arron, and pianist Max Levinson who brought the firepower to a composer whose smaller-scale works don’t routinely bring down the house. When you have the ultra-expressive Jackiw and Arron trading off phrases and leaning toward each other to catch each nuance, however, you have a duo of soaring lyricism far above the ordinary. They were matched by the keyboard sizzle of Levinson, who tore into the third movement at a thrilling tempo. There wasn’t a single dull phrase or humdrum line in the entire performance, and the audience erupted afterward with the kind of ovation that leaves no doubt about the success of the music-making.
The programming this year features an unusual amount of vocal music, and some of that was on offer Wednesday evening: the baritone James Westman in two song cycles by George Butterworth “Five Songs from ‘A Shropshire Lad’”) and his mentor, Ralph Vaughan Williams (“How Cold the Wind Doth Blow”), and mezzo-soprano Allyson McHardy in Kodaly’s “Molnar Anna” and Brahms’ “Two Songs” (Op. 91). Both singers have distinctive and effective voices; Westman’s baritone is mellow, easily produced, and clearly enunciated, with great expressive power. His performances of these mostly melancholy songs were both affecting and effective. McHardy’s voice is warm and opulent, though the articulation is occasionally a bit unwieldy.
A few changes in the program were made to accommodate the unexpected absence of festival director/violinist James Ehnes, who departed early to be on hand for the birth of his second child. Erin Keefe stepped in for Ehnes to perform with Westman in the Vaughan Williams.
The concert was launched by a Schubert hors d’oeuvre, the Adagio and Rondo Concertante (D.487), with violinist Alexander Velinzon, violist Michael Klotz, cellist Bion Tsang, and pianist Inon Barnatan.
The pre-concert recital featured Levinson in two works of Bartok, for which the pianist issued a curious introduction that seemed to apologize for his programming choice (after the “Three Rondos on Hungarian Folk Tunes,” Levinson said encouragingly, “Not so bad, right?”) Indeed it wasn’t. Nor was the lively and often evocative performance of Bartok’s “Out of Doors” Suite, though Wednesday’s monsoon-like weather made “out of doors” the last place concert patrons wanted to be.