BaltacigilEfe-web (CL).jpg
Chris Lee
Efe Baltacigil plays Debussy like Gielgud played Hamlet.
Seattle Chamber Music Society

Benaroya Recital Hall, Monday

Adam Neiman is known to SCMS audiences

"/>

Seattle Chamber Music Society: Cello, Gorgeous

BaltacigilEfe-web (CL).jpg
Chris Lee
Efe Baltacigil plays Debussy like Gielgud played Hamlet.
Seattle Chamber Music Society

Benaroya Recital Hall, Monday

Adam Neiman is known to SCMS audiences not only as a pianist--for several years, a regular in the lineup--but as a composer, and the Society has long provided a ready platform for his works. His latest is an engaging, crowd-pleasing string quartet, premiered at Monday's pre-concert recital.

Neo-romantic in approach but formally more resembling a baroque suite, his quartet is in five movements. There's a neglected quartet by Fritz Kreisler with a harmonic tang similar to that of Neiman's opening Overture: Vienna plus vinegar. Its mood of yearning despair registers as a bit self-conscious and theatrical, like Scarlett O'Hara bursting into tears, then opening one eye and taking a sidelong glance to see if Ashley Wilkes is noticing. Neiman mentioned Paris as an inspiration for his second movement, a Pavane, and it does have a certain urbane bittersweetness, with the flavor of a post-Ravel film score. Each instrument in turn gets a solo over a gently rippling pizzicato accompaniment, in lightly heady, swaying harmonies like the buzz off a swig of cognac.

In the third-movement Canon, agitated string phrases get broken off, sometimes obstreperously, sometimes mysteriously. The middle section is a slowly intensifying folklike lament over a cello drone. Fourth comes a Chorale, halting and haunting, in a devotional mood something like what Beethoven liked to use as the basis for his theme-and-variations pieces. Last comes a Fugue on a not-particularly-striking theme; it comes off a little academic, testing the goodwill earned by the first four movements, though reminiscences of the Overture are woven in interestingly. Imagine a delicious meal ending not with dessert, but with a written exam. Amy Schwartz Moretti, Augustin Hadelich, Richard O'Neill, and Ronald Thomas made a persuasive case for the piece.

The concert proper opened with a Phantasy for piano quartet by British composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941), played by Stefan Jackiw, Cynthia Phelps, Robert deMaine, and Jeremy Denk. Opulent in sound and full of formal surprises, it's one long movement broken into contrasting sections, diverting in the unpredictability of just when and how one section might melt into the next. A selection of six of Dvorak's 12 Cypresses, a song cycle he arranged into bonbons for string quartet, was played, by the same four who'd played Neiman's quartet, with an intimacy and expressiveness perfectly apropos to the music's vocal origins.

The concert's high point followed--my first up-close hearing of Efe Baltacigil, the Seattle Symphony's new first-chair cellist, playing Debussy's Cello Sonata with pianist Neiman. He is a spectacular musician, with a gorgeous, generous, effulgent tone without a trace of effortfulness. Imagine an actor onstage or onscreen so compelling you can't look away; Baltacigil plays with the same irresistibleness. You can't "listen away." To continue the metaphor, his pizzicato passages, in Debussy's gnomic "Serenade" movement, had the color, nuance, and eloquence of a Shakespearian soliloquy--not to imply he hogged the spotlight; Neiman was just as sensitively attuned to the sonata's subtle beauties and sheer weirdness.

After intermission, Orion Weiss and Inon Barnatan sounded impressive in Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, in their original form as a two-piano piece before the composer made an orchestral showpiece out of them. There's a wealth of two-piano works--a format not often heard in concert--on the Society's programs this summer: last Friday, a Mozart sonata and Debussy's En blanc et noir, both played strongly; this coming Wednesday, John Adams' clangorous Hallelujah Junction; last week, some Bartok and Milhaud. It's a good example of the gratifying novelty Society director James Ehnes is bringing to the summer festival; he's finding a good balance between familiar fare--the musical equivalent of beach reading--and intriguing discoveries.

*****

SEATTLE CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY Benaroya Recital Hall, Third Avenue and Union Street. See seattlechambermusic.org for full schedule. $15-$45. Ends July 29.

 
comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow