Splendid performance of Mendelssohn Octet

06.20.07
Stefan Jackiw
Seattle Times

By MELINDA BARGREEN, Music Critic

In the world of classical music, there have been many prodigies, but few of them have blazed as early and spectacular a trail as Felix Mendelssohn. At 16, he penned one of the undisputed masterpieces of the chamber repertoire, his Octet for Strings (Op. 20) - in which all four movements are crammed with effervescent excitement and gorgeous tunes.

On Wednesday evening, the Mendelssohn Octet surfaced at the Lakeside School, where the Seattle Chamber Music Society's Summer Festival is now in full swing. Once again, this piece worked its familiar magic in the concert hall, galvanizing players and listeners alike.

The Octet doesn't always get such a splendid performance as it did on Wednesday. Violinist Stefan Jackiw, an internationally noted soloist, ignited the ensemble with playing of such vivid expertise that everyone else kicked their energy level up a few notches. Joining Jackiw were violinists Joseph Lin, Daniela Shtereva and Erin Keefe; violists David Harding and Richard O'Neill; and cellists Amos Yang and Toby Saks.

The concert opened with a very subtle account of the Debussy Violin Sonata in G Minor with Nicola Benedetti and pianist Andrew Armstrong. The first two movements were a little understated, but the finale demonstrated Benedetti's interpretive flair.

Less successful was a Schubert work for piano, four hands ("Divertissement on Original French Themes"), with Jeremy Denk and Alon Goldstein, who played this interminable work with brio but also with uneven accuracy. The pair emoted over the most mundane march themes as if they were playing Beethoven's Ninth; their evident enjoyment was not always shared by the audience.

Some of the evening's most exciting moments came in the preconcert recital by Yang, playing Britten's Suite No. 1 for Cello. Totally transfixed by the music, Yang soared through the tricky suite with impeccable technique and the kind of lyrical finesse that recalled a young Yo-Yo Ma.