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Weekend MusicWatch: Summer festivals in bloom

By Brett Campbell

June 30, 2012

The Tokyo Quartet joined the Amphion Quartet at Chamber Music Northwest’s opening concerts. Photo: Jim Leisy



Chamber Music Northwest rocketed off to a soaring start last week with the combined experience of the veteran Tokyo Quartet and the vibrant energy of the youthful Amphion Quartet creating an ideally volatile fuel for a classic. Before that, the show at Portland’s Reed College opened with renowned oboist Stephen Taylor joining a trio of Tokyo members in a smooth, elegant traversal of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F. Then the full Tokyo foursome assembled for one of the real masterpieces in all classical — or any — music: Claude Debussy’s sublime 1893 String Quartet, a classic that’s been played beautifully by many of the world’s finest ensembles here in recent years. But few have conveyed the music’s richness as memorably as the Tokyo players did this night.

The combined quartets’ performance of the closing work, Mendelssohn’s ever-amazing Octet, was one of the most stirring I’ve ever heard at CMNW. Taken at a brisk tempo, it never lost clarity, with each of the eight lines vividly present and its teenage emotional energy (Mendelssohn wrote it at age 16) practically bursting from the Kaul Auditorium stage.

The Tokyo Quartet returns this weekend with Taylor performing Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy Quartet, then with pianist Jeremy Denk in Cesar Franck’s Piano Quintet. The New York-based pianist (and nonpareil classical blogger) then joins CMNW artistic director David Shifrin for Johannes Brahms’s poignant Clarinet Sonata Op. 120. A different but almost equally accomplished crew of New York based classical music stars convenes on July 2-3 for two more relatively large scale works: Ernst von Dohnanyi’s Sextet for Clarinet, Horn, Strings and Piano, and another of the pinnacles of classical music, Franz Schubert’s Cello Quintet.

That other major Oregon summer classical music festival opens this weekend in Eugene and Portland with celebrity violinist Joshua Bell leading an all-Mendelssohn program featuring his much-played Violin Concerto at the Hult Center Friday and Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall Saturday. The Oregon Bach Festival extends its reach to Astoria Saturday and Corvallis Sunday, with the Portland Baroque Orchestra performing Dmitri Sitkovetsky’s string orchestra arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (heard earlier this year in Portland and this Tuesday in Eugene). Young pianist Andrew Brownell plays the Goldbergs on keyboard at the Astoria Music Festival Saturday afternoon, so you can compare and contrast to PBO’s performance at the festival that evening. Another great Portland ensemble, Pink Martini (with Storm Large filling in for regular vocalist China Forbes) plays the OBF’s outdoor concert at Cuthbert Amphitheater Sunday.

Speaking of young classical music talents, you can hear another promising young Portland pianist, 16-year-old Ruta Kuzmickas, playing music by Tchaikovsky, Gershwin and Grieg (the last with another young Northwest musician, Seattle’s Simone Porter, on the public radio show From the Top. The program, recorded last month at Portland’s Newmark Theater, airs on the city’s all classical station KQAC Sunday at 5 pm.

I actually devoted most of my art-watching last week to theater (more on that soon), but I did catch the women’s vocal ensemble ViVoce (part of another venerable Oregon arts institution, Portland Revels) at Northeast Portland’s St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church last weekend in a throughly enjoyable and wide ranging program of music from Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Ireland, Slovakia and beyond, including a couple of Renaissance classics by William Byrd and Tomas Luis de Victoria. Attractively attired in what looked like colorful Eastern European village outfits, the women rhythmically swayed and smiled as they threw themselves into the unusual, often dance-inspired repertoire, the strongest part of the program, which was also enhanced by interpolated (and very freely, cleverly and often hilariously adapted) folk tales winningly performed by voice actors Bob and and Ann-Louise Sterry. The one-hour, no intermission program proceeded smartly and swiftly — a format I wish more performers would adopt, especially when the material is delivered — and received– so enthusiastically.

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