in: Reviews

June 15, 2014

Beauties and the Beasts in Rockport

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The 33rd annual Rockport Chamber Music Festival continued Saturday evening, June 14th, with an effervescent program featuring the festival’s long-time artistic director, David Deveau. Entitled “David Deveau & Friends” (“David Deveau & a Few of His Extremely Talented Friends” might have been a more accurate moniker), the performance consisted of a trio of early works by a trio of talented composers.

Though Flag Day 2014 dawned battleship gray and drizzerable, by day’s end the skies had cleared, yielding a stunning natural backdrop in the ever-picturesque confines of the Shalin Liu Performance Center. David got things off to an amusing start by announcing from the keyboard that the theme of the evening’s concert was ‘Beauties and the Beasts!’ The ‘beauties’ in this case were Yinzi Kong, viola and Sophie Shao, cello, with violinist Andrés Cárdenes and pianist David Deveau filling the roles of the ersatz ‘beasts.’

Originally penned as a quintet in 1796, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in E-flat, Opus 16 was transmogrified into quartet form by the composer several years later at the behest of his publisher, whose bottom line was, not surprisingly, all about pumping up sales. Then in his mid-20s and new to Viennese society, Herr Beethoven (1770-1827) concocted a fresh, lyrical work in a quintessentially classical style that was no doubt an audience-pleaser. In this evening’s rendition, the pastel tones of the sweet and limpid music were complemented by the natural marine landscape framing the performers, as we were treated to an early evening sky rich in coral pinks and at least 50 shades of gray, not to mention periwinkle and salmon. Massachusetts-born-and-bred pianist David Deveau proved to be an assured performer, with a controlled, deliberate approach to the keyboard that featured a precisely articulated and polished tone. Andrés Cárdenes, originally hailing from Cuba and now a respected violinist, violist, pedagogue, and conductor, was as undemonstrative as he was solid and musical, a deceptively quiet ‘beast.’ Cellist Sophie Shao, a native Texan, took a somewhat more impassioned approach, featuring languid body movements and the occasional flash of a wry smile. Born and raised in Shanghai, Yinzi Kong created a consistently rich and expressive tone on the viola. The overall effect from this international cast of performers was an elegant, graceful, mature, and preternaturally cohesive soundscape. That said, to this pair of ears and only in this opening piece, there were moments when the aggregate tone edged into dry, almost brittle, territory. Perhaps not quite enough damper pedal by the pianist?

Suddenly, we were seemingly thrust into the middle of a busy, buzzy beehive! David Deveau left the performance of the second work on the program, String Trio by Jean Françaix (1912-1997), in the capable hands of his collaborators. Françaix enjoyed a long, multifaceted, rewarding, and fruitful career as a composer, declaring his lifelong ambition at the tender age of eight and never wavering for the next seven-plus decades. His musical vocabulary was unwavering as well, as he eschewed the various atonal schools for a melodic, though most definitely piquant, and at times downright prickly, sound. Just 21 when he completed his only string trio, the syncopation and tangy harmonies in this early work reverberated throughout his entire oeuvre. The instrumentalists deftly handled the myriad rhythmic challenges and liberal dashes of pizzicato peppering this succinct, clever music; Kong in particular creating an achingly lovely tone in the reflective Andante and Cárdenes glibly tossing off jaunty glissandi and portamenti in the final Rondo. The humorous conclusion of this lighthearted work elicited a ripple of chortles from the large and attentive audience.

Sliding past Maxfield Parrish o’clock during intermission, full dark was upon us for the somewhat darker strains of Gabriel Fauré’s (1845-1924) Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor, Op.15. Written in the late 1870s while the composer was in the throes of a tempestuous relationship that eventually concluded with a broken engagement, the chocolaty tones of this lush, virtuosic music are shot through with darker veins of Brahmsian yearning and pathos. In contrast to the previous work by his fellow countryman, this music was flowing and velvety, all smooth contours and rounded aural shapes. The sensitive instrumentalists combined to create precisely molded phrases, consistently crafting gently swelling and receding crescendi and decrescendi. The turbulent, windswept waters of the final Allegro molto were particularly beautiful, compelling the appreciative audience members to their feet. Artistic Director David Deveau, an immensely talented musician in his own right, obviously has some amazingly gifted friends. Here’s to more collaborations between beauties and beasts!

The full ensemble in Beethoven quartet (Mike Rocha photo)

The full ensemble in Beethoven quartet (Mike Rocha photo)

Michael Rocha is a self-described “long-ago” music teacher, a long-time music enthusiast and pianist, and short-time Web designer: http://www.blueliongraphics.com. He has an MS in Meteorology from MIT.

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