The Beethoven Festival Park City, Utah’s oldest summer classical music festival, is celebrating its 33rd season this year and continues to do what it’s done so well for so many years — presenting great chamber music played by some of the country’s best musicians.
The secret to the festival’s continued success is simple — present standard repertoire side by side with overlooked works, all played by veteran musicians as well as rising young stars.
That was exactly what the audience expected, and got, at a concert last week — Felix Mendelssohn paired with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, with a pair of delightful violin showstoppers by Pablo de Sarasate thrown into the mix. Performing this music were festival directors Leslie Harlow, viola, and Russell Harlow, clarinet. They were joined by festival favorites Manuel Ramos, violin; Doris Stevenson, piano; and Cheung Chau, cello. Rounding out the roster was the young violinist Simón Gollo, making his festival solo debut, although he has played here previously as a member of the Dalí Quartet.
The concert at Park City Community Church opened with Gollo playing Sarasate’s fiendishly difficult Zigeunerweisen. Gollo put his impressive command of his instrument on full display as he dazzled the audience with his technical wizardry.
The same held true for the following piece, Sarasate’s Navarro, for two violins and piano. With Ramos on second violin, the two showed off their musical and technical chops while infusing their playing with highly refined lyricism.
In both pieces the piano merely supports the violins. Stevenson offered solid accompaniment, to be sure, but she also allowed herself to become a vital component to the musical fabric while letting the violins shine.
Completing the first half was Mendelssohn’s dark Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor. Gollo, Chau and Stevenson gave an impassioned account that captured the romantic fervor of the work while also underlining the essential Mendelssohnian lyricism that distinguishes his music.
The second half was taken up by one work, Coleridge-Taylor’s substantive Quintet in F sharp minor, for clarinet and strings. Written in 1895 when the composer was 20 years old, the quintet has hints of Brahms and Dvorak running through it, although it by no means is an imitative work. Coleridge-Taylor, a composer who was prolific and popular in his day but who has fallen to the wayside in the intervening decades, has a distinctive voice that melds romantic passion with florid lyricism and moving expressiveness in a uniquely original manner.
The five players — Russell Harlow, clarinet; Ramos and Gollo, violin; Leslie Harlow, viola; and Chau, cello — brought depth and feeling to their reading. It was an incisive and wonderfully textured and lucid performance that emphasized the romantic sensibility of the music without compromising its integrity.