Local WolfGangers were licking their lips during week one's concerts of the Santa Fe Chamber Music's 34th season. For starters, Mozart specialist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane was in town with members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for an all-Mozart opening-night celebration at the Lensic.
***image1***Festival programming for the week included five of the composer's piano concertos, Nos. 14, 17, 21, 22 and 23. We heard two of these, preceded by a crisp reading of the Overture to La Clemenza di Tito. The A Major concerto, No. 23, followed, beginning elegantly with Kahane as swift-paced soloist. The first movement's Allegro sounded mighty like an Allegro molto, but Kahane's reading maintained a shapely balance with his orchestra.
Trouble started with the final Allegro assai. Kahane whipped lickety-split through the finale at the expense of clarity and focus. The great C Major concerto, No. 21, whizzed by just as hastily. Thoughtful phrasing and nuanced dynamics took a back seat to hurry and impetuousness, even in the sublime slow movement.
But thoughtless haste wasn't in the week's final concert-Benjamin Hochman's all-Bach recital. The young Israeli pianist opened with the B minor Prelude and Fugue that completes Book One of "The Well-tempered Clavier." His clarity, pacing and calm assurance set the tone for the entire, too-brief recital.
The following Partita No. 5 retained a sense of its dance origins, the Sarabande a model of deeply felt phrasing and the Tempo di Minuetta alert with unbearable lightness. In the English Suite No. 3, Hochman played with taste and maturity, from the witty ***image2***Prelude to the noble pensiveness of the Sarabande. In his grace, intelligence and loving immersion in the music, Hochman brings the young Dinu Lipatti to mind.
Sunday's concert returned Hochman to the stage, now as part of an ensemble performing Bartók's "Contrasts," with violinist Cho-Liang Lin and Todd Levy, the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra's principal clarinet. Levy's appearance is part of a recent, praiseworthy program designed to allow SFO instrumentalists opportunities to perform with the Chamberfest.
The piece received a passionate, idiomatic reading marked by swinging exuberance tempered with melancholy in the first movement, a darkly sonorous slow movement and plenty of terrific ensemble playing in the fiendish finale.
The concert concluded with Levy and the Miami Quartet coming home to the calm and generosity of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet. It was a leisurely, seasoned performance marked by the dark-toned Levy's consummate phrasing and lyrical line. Frankly, for balance and mellow fruitfulness, Mozart has rarely had it so good.