Chamber Music Festival lifts audience to an exalted other world

07.31.09
Jeremy Denk, Stefan Jackiw
The Seattle Times

By Sumi Hahn

Every musical performance has two sides: The stage, where the musicians perform, and the seats, where the audience listens.

There is a third place as well, the dimension where, under extraordinary circumstances, both player and audience commingle in one collective consciousness. This third place isn't a physical location but a state of mind that exists only in the moment the music is made.

This phenomenon of the third place is the reason people listen to live music. And why the Seattle Chamber Music Society's Summer Festival draws such ardent fans. Trying to predict when this mutual state of bliss might happen is impossible. But, like falling in love, it's unmistakable when it does.

On Monday night, after a quaint, courtly Haydn trio, it happened in Brahms' Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano, with violinist Stefan Jackiw and pianist Jeremy Denk.

Jackiw's lustrous talent finds an ideal outlet in Brahms, that most solitary yet ardent of composers. The violinist played the sonata with the artlessness of a child, caressing the notes with such authentic joy that merely watching him was enough to inspire pleasure. His natural, unforced fluidity in phrasing and expression made the music seem an extemporaneous creation rather than the polished product of practice.

The wondrously reliable Denk provided lush, full-toned accompaniment to Jackiw's sprite of a violin. Denk is a generous chamber player: always appropriate, always considerate, always in the right place in the right time with the right phrase. As violin and piano bantered playfully in the second movement, I imagined that the legendary 19th-century recitals of violinist Joseph Joachim and pianist Clara Schumann — lifelong friends and fervent exponents of Brahms — couldn't have sounded better than Jackiw and Denk.

The energy generated by this duet lingered through intermission and charged the Bartók Quintet for Piano and Strings, which surged open with a voluptuous show of strings. Violinists Soovin Kim and Erin Keefe, violist Richard O'Neill, cellist Ronald Thomas and pianist Adam Neiman brought a fierce unanimity to their playing, giving full range of expression to Bartók's dynamo. One of the sexiest moments of that hot night happened during the Adagio, when Kim's violin and O'Neill's viola engaged in a languid duet before being joined by Keefe's second violin.

From symphonic swells, passionate runs, and brooding melodrama to intellectual tonalities, rustic syncopations and whistle-able melodies, the Bartók Quintet has — as my companion so aptly described it — "a little bit of everything." Delivered by such capable hands, this smorgasbord of sound was richly satisfying and never overwhelming. That's because in the third place, one can gorge upon music and still leave hungry for more.