The second night of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, June 10, was as fabulous as is its first night (see review by Tony Schemmer). The gorgeous Shalin Liu Performance Center never gets visually old; it remains a thrilling experience to be here. My last visit was during the day. I remember little boats and swimmers and birds flying by the glass backdrop behind the stage. This time is was evening, and the darkening sky provided a different sort of beauty, as if the beautiful music weren’t enough!
The festival’s Artistic Director David Deveau has taken a medical leave for this summer due to tendinitis and back problems, so Wendy Chen took over as pianist as she had done the night before; the Mozart Piano Sonata for Piano four Hands was replaced by works by Chopin and Debussy. The evening began with Chen playing Chopin’s beautiful Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1, a favorite of many pianists. Chen gave a lyrical, elegant performance, full of colors. Her arms, often in motion, raised during pauses in the most graceful manner, reminding me of a harpist or ballet dancer. It was a performance I will remember always.
Chen and cellist Andrés Díaz ’s stunning performance of Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano captured every capricious mood change with great élan. Díaz , now teaching at Rice University, is worth hearing whenever he’s around. This was an impassioned reading of one of Debussy’s late works (from a projected six sonatas for various instruments. The others he completed were the Violin and Piano Sonata and the Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp). The two performers were hardly strangers to this piece, or to playing it together. It was as if it were embedded in their DNA, so absolutely convincing was this performance.
The Rhapsody for Solo Cello by Xi Wang (b. 1978) was, like so many solo cello pieces, a tour de force, but a very personal composition as well. Wang has written, “The piece is a result of my reaction to a series of unexpected events that happened in my personal life as well as in my friend’s life. ‘Rhapsody’ was written within a week and I was being extremely emotional. … For me, composing is a process of relieving tension, telling stories, and walking towards my ideal realm.” Díaz gave this seven-minute tonal piece a spectacular reading. His many harmonics sounded like tears; his tremelos and very fast passages sounded like the emotional whirlwinds Xi Wang must have endured while writing it. This was a piece I’d be happy to hear again.
Chen and Díaz , joined by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, played the Tchaikovsky very well indeed. Chen continued to impress. Her playing is not about volume, but about lyricism and color. This is not flamboyant playing; it captures your attention through its tonal and poetic beauty. Meyers stuck me as having a different musical personality than her two colleagues. She plays, of course, excellently, but I felt a certain lack of warmth, especially in comparison with Díaz , who is such a passionate player and who commands such rapt attention. Nevertheless, the trio gave a memorable account of this often tragic, much loved piece, written by a grief-stricken Tchaikovsky upon hearing that his mentor, Nicholai Rubenstein, had died.
It is all but impossible not to remark about the sartorial fabulousness of the youthful Chen and Meyers. Both wore pants and bustiers (red and black); Díaz wore black pants and turtleneck. This was one great looking trio.
Finally, a word about Rockport Chamber Music. Music Director David Deveau has chosen terrific players and programs. Shalin Liu is one of the most wonderful halls I’ve ever been in, acoustically and scenically. Its atmosphere is unusually friendly, and they now have a third floor lounge with wine and soft drinks and lovely chocolate desserts. Being here is such a treat that if you can make it to a concert the next few weeks (it ends July 17), I highly recommend rushing out to get tickets. Summer music festivals don’t get better than this.
Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti.