Artistic Director David Deveau of the Rockport Music Festival hosted and participated in a beautiful and breezy Schubertiade on Friday. In Schubert’s day, an intimate circle of the composer and friends (a number of them poets, artists, and the like) would gather in a middle-class Austrian salon and enjoy a lively chamber concert including his lieder, at the time mostly unknown. Almost two centuries later, a full house of patrons with pricy tickets enjoyed a magnificent multicultural, multinational collaboration of musicians who all grew up listening, loving, and playing Schubert.
Violinist Elita Kang, violist Jonathan Chu and cellist Owen Young began with the one-movement String Trio in B-Flat Major, D.471, which comprises only an allegro and part of an andante. To these ears, the allegro sounds self-sufficient, complete as a well-cut jewel. The impeccable ensemble and sensitivity made this gem sparkle effortlessly.
The first half of the program concluded with Schubert’s most beloved of four-hand piano duets, the 1828 Fantasy in F Minor, D.940. It was played beautifully by Victor Rosenbaum and Mana Tokuno. This is “late” Schubert in his full compositional maturity. The single movement is one continuous piece with four interlocking sections, displaying all the structural integrity and variety of a grand sonata. Tokuno played the treble part, and her execution of the opening theme realized all of its profound, soulful potential. Rosenbaum was solid as a rock. Those familiar with the piece might quibble with his conservative, even stingy use of pedal, but as an interpretative choice it allowed all the notes, dissonances and voicing their due value.
Schubert was ill when he wrote the Fantasy, and the piece’s recurring opening theme has a haunting sadness. No melody Schubert wrote carries such a corporeal sense of Eastern European longing as this opening. Wordlessly it sings and tugs deep in the heart every time. The remainder of the piece seems to pass through the stages of grief.
No Schubertiade would be complete without the magnificent Trout Piano Quintet, D.667, written on holiday. F. Sylvester Paumgartner commissioned the piece for the unconventional string combination of his musician friends, and requested that it make reference to the melody from Schubert’s song Die Forelle. Although a playful work, it is complex. The program notes pointed out that “The unusual instrumentation leads directly back to Paumgartner’s home, where he often played the cello with his friends, a violinist, violist, bass player and pianist.” The instrumentation naturally gives the work more oomph, and the impression on the listener is that the extra bass support frees up of the virtuoso piano to sound more brilliantly ‘troutlike.’ The notes reminded us that the energetic first movement flows memorably, its triplets suggesting rippling waters.
As the trout Deveau was magnificent: his musicality bobbed and dived and splashed. He brought sweeping life to the places in the score that can easily sound like a Czerny exercise, and made the clear stream and the wriggling fish palpable. Kang, Chu, Young and bassist Thomas van Dyck performed commendably, although not quite as solidly as they could have. The cello needed to sing out more, and there were a few fleeting moments when intonation was not dead on. They did live up to the challenge of supporting the pianist, and Deveau’s contribution made the performance spectacular.