Back in 1973, six Sunday-evening programs were it, period, for festivalgoers. As time passed and plans grew, so did the number of concerts. Nowadays, that Sunday program gets a reprise on Monday evening, joined by plenty of other events scattered over the rest of the week. About the only recuerdo of 1973 that’s still somewhat intact is the diluted dress code for gentlemen artists. White dinner jackets used to be de rigueur. Nowadays, the gents don’t all look like they moonlight for Tommy Dorsey—just some of them.
The first three Sunday programs this season offered listeners an ample, varied smorgasbord. July 18: a mixed bag of Jolivet, Heggie and Brahms. July 25: the festivals’s big Mahler evening. And for Aug. 1: a soothing, civilized blend of Haydn, Mozart and Reynaldo Hahn.
The evening opened with a delight-making account of Haydn’s Piano Trio No. 43, Hob. XV:27. It’s almost a piano sonata with string accompaniment, played with C Major delicacy by Kuok-Wai Lio at the keyboard, plus Harvey de Souza, violin, and Peter Stumpf, cello. Matters darkened somewhat with Mozart’s G Minor Piano Quartet, K. 478, with the same players, augmented by violist Hsin-Yun Huang. Their performance? Vigorous, strong, solid.
A rarity concluded the concert: Hahn’s 1921 Piano Quintet in F-sharp Minor. We mostly know the composer from his deft songs and music for the stage. Hahn’s considerable gift for lyricism and light drama informs his quintet. Its opening movement, Molto agitato e con fuoco, gives everybody on stage lots to do. Pleasantly predictable and about as deep as a finger bowl, it’s nonetheless energetic summer music.
Then the Andante arrives, long-breathed, lovely stuff, with an emphasis on the lower strings. Hahn’s opera, Le Marchand de Venise, appeared several years later, but this sensuous nocturne could easily accompany Shakespeare’s last-act night piece at Belmont. The final movement, Allegretto gracioso, reflects Hahn’s love affair with Mozart, scented with charming rococo recollections. Pianist Jeremy Denk was joined by violinists Cho-Liang Lin and Jennifer Gilbert, plus Huang and Stumpf for a graceful reading of this minor, rewarding work.
Simone Dinnerstein’s recital on July 31 opened with a wayward account of Schubert’s four D. 899 Impromptus. The first and third in particular lacked any coherence, given her lugubrious tempos. Brendel and Perahia traverse all four in 28 minutes or so. Dinnerstein clocked in at nearly 40 minutes. It seemed longer. Bach’s French Suite No. 5 received a performance that could likewise be called, at best, idiosyncratic, veering from the mannered to the manic.
Schubert’s G-flat Major Impromptu popped up again at Kuok-Wai Lio’s noon recital on Aug. 3, and sounded just as it should—fluid, balanced and distinguished by Lio’s remarkable touch. Red meat came next on the program: Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, his dramatic series of 18 brief character pieces designed to contrast, in musical terms, an impetuous heroic persona with his lyrical, poetic counterpart. It’s super-romantic, programmatic stuff that makes serious demands of the performer.
I had few doubts about Lio’s ability to handle the rhapsodic elements of the piece. His gifts for flexibility and expressive tenderness are a known commodity. But the heroic, fiery alter-ego became alive in Lio’s reading, as well. Schumann’s youthful, quirky fantasy was more than matched by Lio’s youthful, insightful performance.
The festival’s program notes, informative—sometimes exhaustingly so—play a useful role for concertgoers. None are provided for the noon concerts. That’s probably OK, but the audience would have derived more pleasure from the Schumann had they been in hand.