PARK CITY AND SALT LAKE CITY MUSIC FESTIVAL, Park City Community Church, Thursday through July 20 (435-649-5309)
What would summer in Utah be without the Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival? For lovers of chamber music, it would be a whole lot drearier. Because for nearly a quarter century, co-directors Leslie and Russell Harlow have been presenting a vibrant array of works to local audiences, played by some of the most dynamic chamber musicians from around the country.
Such a staple of the local classical music scene for so long, it would be unthinkable not to have the Harlows' festival as part of the summer music festival ritual. Fortunately, the festival is in no way losing steam. It's as dynamic now as it has ever been, and it appears that it will be around for years to come.
The 24th season of the festival opened Thursday in Park City Community Church with music by Mozart, Grieg and Brahms. Performing the concert was a group of longtime festival artists violinist Rebekah Johnson, cellist Scott Ballantyne and pianist John Jensen who joined violist Leslie Harlow and violinist Monte Belknap, who has been a part of the festival now for a couple of years.
The evening began with Mozart's String Quartet in B flat major, K. 458 ("Hunt"). A light and airy work, the "Hunt" is nevertheless an exquisitely crafted piece that is subtle in its expressions.
The four players Johnson, Belknap, Harlow and Ballantyne gave a wonderful reading of the quartet that captured the lightness and grace of the music with beautifully wrought phrasings and lucid articulation.
The four played the work as if they had been performing together for decades and not just occasionally in Park City. The ensemble playing was amazingly cohesive and solid and strikingly intuitive and effortlessly fluid.
The same held true for Grieg's Cello Sonata in A minor, op. 36, that followed. Ballantyne and Jensen played the work as if it was written for them. Their reading was vibrant and compelling. The work is laid out on a large scale, and the duo captured that convincingly. They brought out the wide emotional range of the work easily. Their playing was bold and dramatic yet also nuanced and quite subtle in its articulation.
Closing out the concert was Brahms' Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, op. 87. Of the three piano trios the composer wrote, the second is by far the most subdued and even understated (as far as Brahms can be understated), yet with an underlying passion that strains to be unleashed but never quite succeeds. It still packs a punch dramatically and emotionally, but not quite on the same terms as its siblings.
Johnson, Ballantyne and Jensen played the trio with bold gestures and sweeping lines that captured the restless vitality of the opening movement forcefully, and which carried over into the second movement. This movement was given a dramatic treatment that captured the seriousness of the music.
The rather subdued scherzo, played with fluid phrases, flew by, while the finale burst onto the scene with force. The threesome brought out the vigor and exuberance of this movement with their energetic and ebullient playing.
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