The Society for Chamber Music in Rochester on Friday ended its season in satisfying style. The organization celebrated its 40th anniversary, and pianist Jon Nakamatsu celebrated the end of his season as SCMR's first artist-in-residence.
Friday's concert itself began with something worth celebrating: the opening movement of Mendelssohn's D Minor Trio, performed by the Hochstein Capriccio Scholarship Piano Trio -- violinist Samuel Nitsch, cellist Jackie Hager, and pianist Raymond Feng. They're all high school students, but they played this appealing work with freshness and the aplomb of experienced chamber musicians.
Jan Vaclav Kalivoda, or if you prefer, Johann Baptist Wenzel Kalliwoda, was a hard-working Czech composer of the first half of the 19th century. His "Morceau de Salon" is a standout in the sparse repertoire of virtuoso showpieces for oboe. Kalliwoda was not only an industrious composer but also quite a good one, admired by Schumann and Mendelssohn, and the "Morceau de Salon" is a charmer: a bel canto operatic scene with no words but lots and lots of notes. It provided a nice change of sonority on this strings-and-piano program, and RPO Principal Oboist and SCMR Co-Artistic Director Erik Behr dispatched it elegantly, with a sweet tone even on the highest notes.
Nakamatsu can certainly play big virtuoso works, like the Rachmaninoff Second Concerto (with which he opened the RPO season), but he seems much more in his element in reflective, intimate music, such as the major pieces on this SCMR program: Haydn's Piano Trio No. 44 (which he in fact suggested) and Brahms's First Piano Quartet.
Most of Haydn's piano trios are not heard all that often, but they offer a cornucopia of wonderful music, and it is easy to see why Nakamatsu is fond of this one (Haydn's 44th of about 60). It is a short work, but full of surprises: the pizzicato opening of the first movement; the elevated, Bach-like emotion of the second movement; the loping, good-natured 6/8 finale. The pianist gets the lion's share of the attention here, and Nakamatsu played with a weighty elegance, bringing out the seriousness under the music's polished surface. The cellist doesn't get terribly much to do in Haydn trios, mostly buttressing the bass line, but David Ying grabbed every possible chance to play off violinist Juliana Athayde (SCMR co-artistic director) in witty musical dialogue.
Brahms doesn't get any more recognizable than in his First Piano Quartet, which he wrote at the age of 28 and still contains all the finest elements of his mature music. Brahms's symphonies followed many years later, but this passionate, ambitious piece sometimes sounds like a symphony straining to be played by only four instrumentalists. Arnold Schoenberg made a famous, or perhaps notorious, orchestration of this work -- but with players like these, who needs a full orchestra? This was a wonderfully focused and propulsive reading of a great work.
Athayde and David Ying, joined by violist Philip Ying, dug into the music with remarkable unanimity of tone and a dark coloring that suited it perfectly. The lyrical strings are balanced by a difficult, showy piano part. Nakamatsu did it justice (and then some) while remaining utterly integrated with the string players. This Brahms quartet was one of the most exciting performances of anything I have heard all year, particularly in its most familiar movement, the blazing "Hungarian style" finale.