What more appropriate opening for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s 42nd season than Robert Schumann’s ecstatic song, “Widmung,” (“Dedication”) as transcribed for piano by Liszt? Well, frankly, none whatsoever. Just imagine that, glancing at Rückert’s text, you substitute “Musik” for “Du,” the poet’s beloved. It works.
Granted, this dedication happened at the SFCMF’s second program, not the grand opening on July 20, but never mind. We all knew what was on pianist Jon Nakamatsu’s mind at his noon recital two days later at St. Francis Auditorium. “Widmung” can be sung or played with exalted saccharine pretense. Not here, though. As in the remainder of his all-Schumann program, Nakamatsu’s reading was a mixture of balance and elegant restraint, adept at bringing out inner voices and avoiding extravagant gesture.
The composer’s youthful dance suite “Papillons” followed, nearly a dozen brief vignettes, all but one in triple-time, meant to evoke the ebullience of a masked ball. Nakamatsu gave each its measure of lightness and grace, especially in the impish No. 11 and the witty double-speak finale.
“Carnaval” concluded the regular program. Since Schumann loved all things literary, I’ll toss in a motto from Edmund Spenser: “Be bold, be bold, be not too bold.” That’s the Nakamatsu take on Schumann’s frisky warhorse: Grand but not grandiose; kind to the work’s grotesqueries but not grotesque. Chopin’s “Fantaisie-Impromptu” in the deftest of readings encored us into the sunshine.
Shostakovich’s angst-ridden 1944 Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 67, his bleak testament to the horrors of war, dominated the July 24 program. By then, evidence of Nazi atrocities had become overwhelming, far beyond the power of words to express. So, then, this trio. Its ghostly opening Andante is unique—first the cello’s icy harmonics, then the lower-voiced violin’s entrance followed by the canon’s hushed, deliberate third voice, the piano in its lowest register. Can anything be so profoundly sad?
Faster movements display a more familiar side of the composer—brittle, bitter, mocking and furious by turns. The Largo, its theme and variations supported by the quietly insistent passacaglia of eight soft, grim chords in the piano, six times repeated, expresses despair mingled with helpless resignation. A finer performance (violinist William Preucil, cellist Mark Kosower, pianist Alessio Bax) would be difficult to imagine.
Works featuring the viola had opened each half of the concert: Poul Ruders’ six brief Romances and then Brett Dean’s Skizzen für Siegbert in three movements—“Poem,” “Moto perpetuo” and “Lied”—performed by the composer. Dean’s final movement, its elegiac intensity and focused stillness in particular, made a profound impression.
Closing the first half: Beethoven’s Piano Quartet, Op. 16. Some auditors (me included) prefer the earlier piano and winds version over Beethoven’s recasting for piano and strings, especially as heard in this correct, bland reading by violinist Jennifer Frautschi, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, cellist Wilhelmina Smith and pianist Benjamin Hochman.
Who distinguished himself mightily in the summer’s first Bach Plus program last Saturday. Hochman offered a challenging triple bill: Luigi Dallapiccola’s 1952 Quaderno Musicale di Annalibera, sandwiched between two Bach partitas for keyboard. Written as a birthday present for Dallapiccola’s 8-year-old daughter, the Quaderno consists of 11 not-easy pieces, each the soul of brevity, composed in the 12-tone style the composer favored at the time.
Oddly and no doubt intentionally, many of the miniatures have a distinct tonal or atonal cast. Hochman’s effective, non-cerebral reading offered a powerfully pianistic take on the work. His opening, Partita No. 2 BWV 826, has been called by Bach scholar Malcom Boyd, “a graveyard for all but the most nimble-fingered executants.” Hochman’s swift traversal, buoyant and dynamically pure, left not a corpse behind. The same can be said of his concluding Partita No. 4, BWV 828. The weighty Allemande flowed and flowed, and the final Gigue exploded in a rapture of excitement.
Bach’s introductory note to the six partitas states that they were “Composed For Music Lovers To Refresh Their Spirits.” With Hochman in charge, they do and they did.
The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s 42nd season goes on through Monday, Aug. 25.