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Thursday, July 4, 2013 - Page updated at 04:30 p.m.

Classical review
SCMS fest, night 2: Jazzy Martinu, eloquent Tchaikovsky

By Melinda Bargreen
Special to The Seattle Times

Seldom do you see six musicians having more fun onstage than on Monday evening at the Nordstrom Recital Hall, with Martinu’s “La Revue de Cuisine” on the musical menu. This jazz ballet suite, witty and jokey and full of fun, got the high-spirited treatment from the musicians of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival in the second concert of the season.

Introduced by a witty reading of the ballet’s synopsis by festival director and violinist James Ehnes, the 10-movement suite proved jaunty, colorful, and full of clever and inventive scoring. The small but vivid instrumental palette for the Martinu included clarinet (Sean Osborn), bassoon (Seth Krimsky), trumpet (Jens Lindemann), cello (David Requiro) and piano (Inon Barnatan), in addition to Ehnes’ violin — all playing with evident enjoyment.

Jolly and highly pictorial, the Martinu sometimes sounds like a cartoon soundtrack, full of sound effects and vivid musical colors. The sextet really let loose in the jazzy Charleston sections, much to the delight of the audience, which gave the ensemble rousing cheers at the finale.

The Prokofiev Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major began life as a flute sonata, and remains one of the great solo pieces for that latter instrument. Reworked by the composer for violin at the suggestion of famed violinist David Oistrakh, the sonata also is an effective vehicle for the violin — this time performed by Jesse Mills, with pianist Andrew Armstrong.

Mills commands a beautiful, big tone and impressive technical skills, but as the performance went on, it was clear that what was missing in this otherwise excellent reading was an individual interpretive stamp on the music. Phrase after lovely phrase didn’t seem to develop in a cohesive artistic statement; expressive opportunities were lost as important transitions and resolutions marched past without much distinction or characterization. Armstrong was a responsive partner at the piano, though there were a few ensemble issues in the tricky Scherzo movement.

The evening’s finale, the Tchaikovsky String Quartet No. 3, was quite different: a full-blooded and eloquent account of this romantic score, with the passionate and authoritative violin of Ida Levin setting the tone for an excellent ensemble (violinist Stephen Rose, violist Rebecca Albers and cellist Brinton Smith, all displaying considerable finesse and eloquent phrasing).

The Tchaikovsky is a highly exacting piece requiring deadeye accuracy in intonation and artistic approach; it’s almost miraculous to achieve this in a festival setting with four musicians who don’t regularly play together. Levin’s utter conviction and interpretive depth were echoed by all three of her colleagues, who matched her line for line in an exciting performance that drew a sustained ovation from the audience.

Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at

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