Scorching Bartok opened Seattle chamber music-fest
REVIEW | 7.03.2012 | by Melinda Bargreen | The Seattle Times
Outside the Nordstrom Recital Hall, it was cold and rainy. Inside the hall, it was smoking hot — especially when James Ehnes and Jon Kimura Parker took the stage to play Bartok in this opening program of the 31st Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival. The festival, which annually opens the week of the Fourth of July, is always a reliable source of fireworks (of the musical variety), but Monday evening’s opener was even more incendiary than usual. Ehnes, the festival’s artistic director, and Parker, artistic adviser of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, are an ideal pairing of verve and artistry at the violin and piano. Whenever they join forces, it sounds as if they were inventing the music as they go, so spontaneous is their musical partnership. In Monday’s concert, the Bartok Violin Sonata No. 1 took on new dimensions in a performance that really deserved a recording. Ehnes just goes from strength to strength as a violinist; he’s better every year. In the Bartok, he changed the focus of his sound the way a photographer adjusts an image from hazy to sharp and back again. The ruminative Adagio sounded like an extended meditation, personal and spontaneous. In the hair-raising wild ride of the blazing final Allegro, Ehnes at one point briefly examined his violin, and one wondered if he were looking for scorch marks. At the piano, Parker was the kind of duo partner violinists dream about: together every step of the way, intuitive, with a technique that verges on the frankly impossible — especially in that runaway-train finale. The audience leapt up with the kind of ovation that only follows a really electrifying performance.