The Saratoga Chamber Music Festival’s Sunday afternoon concert at the Spa Little Theatre was an interesting, varied and entertaining mix that employed 20 musicians, four singers and conductor Charles Dutoit.
Violinists Chantal Juillet and Renaud Capuçon, violist Pamela Fay and cellist Efe Baltacigil attacked their parts in Stravinsky’s Three Pieces (1914). The first two movements were acerbic, abstract, percussive and rhythmic. The last movement contradicted all that with lonely, long lines played in close harmony. The quartet’s energy was high throughout, but they stepped back enough to underplay the end, which heightened the music’s dolefulness.
In contrast was Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor (1839) with pianist Emanuel Ax, Juillet and Baltacigil. It’s one of the most gloriously melodic pieces with four movements that never stop singing. The players seemed comfortable together and achieved a lovely balanced blend. Ax, who had a soloistic part, never overplayed but used a light touch, gentle nuances and expert pedaling. Ensemble connections were silken.
The first movement was as fresh as flowers in May. The slow second movement was lovingly rendered. The third was vivacious and light. The fourth, with its greater drama, had high energy, a bigger volume and featured a virtuosic piano part in which Ax was effortless.
Throughout, the near capacity crowd was so delighted that it often applauded between movements. At the end, loud cheers rang out and the players received several curtain calls.
It was a special treat to hear Ax play alone in Schubert’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 120. The three movements were very light, tuneful and sweet, although there was a bit of thunder and the second movement had a hint of sadness. Ax never indulged in dramatics. His dynamic level, too, was highly controlled. He sang the melodies, took his time and seemed to enjoy himself. The audience did, too.
Eleven instrumentalists, all from the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Dutoit then performed Stravinsky’s “Ragtime,” a piece that reflected the composer’s interest in American music. It was very boppy and brash.
More orchestral musicians and the four singers from the Hudson Shad vocal group joined Dutoit to perform Stravinsky’s theatrical burlesque, “The Fox,” which is from the same period. Only 15 minutes long, the music described this Russian fable, which the singers acted out. Although superbly performed, balances favored the instrumentalists and the English words were sometimes indecipherable.
Tonight, Martha Argerich and the Capuçon brothers will play.