After an absence of several years, the Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival is once again back at the Stanfield Fine Art Gallery on Park City's Lower Main Street.
There is hardly a better place in the resort town to hold chamber music concerts. With the audience surrounded by paintings and sculptures, the gallery lends its ambience to the music. And with limited seating due to the restrictions of the space, the gallery affords the intimacy that is lacking in other venues, and makes the musical experience all the more pleasurable.
The festival's second concert of the season took place Friday in Stanfield. On the program were two works by Beethoven that bookended Jean Francaix's wickedly delicious Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano.
Francaix, who wrote the trio in 1992 when he was 80 (and only five years before his death) comes from the same musical tradition in France that produced the likes of Jacques Ibert and Francis Poulenc, both Francaix's contemporaries, all of whom enjoyed their heyday in the 1920s and '30s. Francaix writes in the same lighthearted, carefree vein that characterized French music from that era. And, as one could hear in the trio, he kept that style until the end of his life.
Clarinetist Russell Harlow, violist Leslie Harlow and pianist Melissa Livengood captured the cheeky irreverence of the music wonderfully. The work doesn't take itself too seriously not even in the Largo, with its hints of poignancy and the threesome brought out the wide range of moods expressed in the five fairly short movements with clarity and perceptiveness. They approached it for what it is: light, airy, entertaining and irresistibly charming and appealing.
A little more on the serious side were the two Beethoven works: the String Trio No. 2 in G major (op. 9, no. 1) and the Violin Sonata No. 1 in D major (op. 12, no. 1).
While the string trio comes across as a delightful and ebullient, it is in fact a fiendishly difficult work to pull off successfully. But in the capable and talented hands of violinist Rebekah Johnson, violist Leslie Harlow and cellist Scott Ballantyne, the piece was given a luminous reading. Their wonderfully fluid and cohesive ensemble playing allowed them to capture all the subtle nuances and dynamics of the work effortlessly. At least they made it seem effortless to the audience. It was an exquisitely crafted performance filled with lyrical charm and gorgeously played expressions.Violinist Monte Belknap and pianist John Jensen closed out the concert with Beethoven's D major Violin Sonata. Belknap, who teaches at Brigham Young University, and Jensen make a marvelous duo. They played the work radiantly. They brought boldness and sweeping gestures to the dramatic opening movement, finely honed lyricism to the middle movement theme and variations, and nimbleness and fluid grace to the finale. Their account of the sonata melded romantic passion with classical structure. It was nothing short of brilliant.