The prospect of hearing all three Piano Trios by Johannes Brahms in one concert was more than enticing. And SummerFest 2012’s A-list roster of violinist Cho-Liang Lin, cellist Gary Hoffman, and pianist Jon Kimura Parker as the program’s performers shot my expectations through the roof.
At the intermission of Wednesday’s (Aug. 22) Brahms Piano Trio concert, however, I found myself wishing I had kept my inflated anticipation in check. Yes, we were hearing some of the most plush and ingeniously crafted chamber music in western music, and, without question, the performers were engaging their prodigious musical proficiency with clear-eyed precision. But something was missing.
Although these virtuosi were playing together with evident synchrony and dedication, there was not much chemistry in their collaboration. Polite, exacting execution and only modest chance-taking characterized their accounts of the expansive C Major Piano Trio, Op. 87 and its more concise cousin, the valedictory C Minor Piano Trio, Op. 101.
It was not until the program’s second half, when the trio tackled the B Major Piano Trio, Op. 8, that I felt a modicum of
Brahmsian passion released from the closet in which it had been carefully sequestered. Hoffman’s luxuriant cello solo in the opening movement of Op. 8 signaled a change of approach, and the ensemble revealed an exuberant spirit that had eluded their accounts of Op. 87 and Op. 101, with the exception of the closing bars of Op. 101.
But if the temperature of the room rose with the B Major Trio, I still did not sense the tingling synergy that a chamber group can communicate when their performance makes an impression far greater than the sum of the performers’ individual efforts. And while it is true that a festival ensemble cannot have the history of extensive performing and rehearsing together that a touring trio or quartet enjoys, the expectation of bringing individual stellar performers together is that the festival will act as the creative crucible for a uniquely stimulating performance. This trio was unique, but not that stimulating.
As a concerto soloist, Parker has always been one of my favorite pianists, but in this setting I found his dynamic level overbearing and his pace unrelenting. Lin’s lithe, shimmering line proved a comfort in dryer stretches, but I could only wish that he had persuaded Parker to adopt his more flexible, forgiving approach.
On Friday, August 24, SummerFest 2012 celebrates its grand finale with a chamber orchestra concert under the baton of Kent Nagano, a distinguished American conductor who has made most of his career in Europe. See www.ljms.org for program details.