Grizzled veterans of the chamber circuit were much in evidence at this season's openers of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival's 33rd summer. Names like Joseph Silverstein, Michael Tree, Leon Fleisher and Marc Neikrug. ***image2***Of his prestigious colleagues Neikrug, artistic director of the Festival, says, "They're historic," and he's not kidding. You name the world-class festival or orchestra or top-of-the-heap concert venue-they've been there, done that.
But this year's opening week featured a drop-dead young talent, the twentysomething violinist Soovin Kim, who imparted the same kind of excitement that older generation delivered to their own first-time audiences. Kim is no stranger to this festival, but the other night in a program of Bach's unaccompanied works for violin, he sailed right into the stratospheric company of his elders.
Kim's reading of the Partita No. 3 had lightness, grace and evoked the spirit of the dance that lies behind each movement, but nonetheless had ***image1***a whiff of the conservatory about it. Things changed with the Sonata No. 2. It was much more than technical facility and musical intelligence-Kim played with an introspective intensity that drew us with him into the long lines and deep places of this serious, minor-keyed work.
But it was his execution of Partita No. 2 and particularly the famous, final Ciaconna that settled the question. Kim made it his own, skipping the crowd-pleasing dramatics that often kill the piece. His dynamic nuance, clarity of phrasing, simplicity and nobility of expression made the familiar movement seem brand new. We may never hear such fine soft playing in St. Francis Auditorium again.
Or so I thought until the following Wednesday, when Ricardo Morales and Neikrug played Berg's Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 5. Morales and Neikrug made a partnership with the Berg, a masterpiece of compressed brevity, emphasizing the quiet lyricism of the work, its strangeness, the visionary warnings of the final movement. At times their playing was as close to silence as sound can get.
Again, partnership was the point of Brahms's Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115, with the youthful Miró Quartet joining Morales. The string players showed an abundance of enthusiasm and focused energy, but there were rough edges. Morales' supple tone, his tactful phrasing, his quiet authority pulled the piece together. The performance wasn't glittery-this mellow late work couldn't bear it. But warmth and attention abounded, reminding us that chamber music is, at heart, hausmusik.