Among the 200-some events of the Music Academy of the West’s Summer Festival, seven stand out as especially prized. These are the faculty recitals that commenced on June 26 and continue weekly on Tuesday nights through August 7. While the focus of the Music Academy remains “advancing the development of the next generation of great classical musicians,” Tuesdays @ 8 (as they are punctually titled) allow the Fellows to take a backseat while giving current professionals an opportunity to strut their stuff. These small ensemble concerts by distinguished musicians from all over the world are relaxed affairs, a sharing of craft among colleagues, students, and academy patrons. The concert on July 3, the second in the series, played to an overflow audience, due in part to the added luster of visiting violin superstar Gil Shaham, as well as New York Philharmonic principal violist Cynthia Phelps.
German compositions remind me of Mercedes-Benz cars — they are just built better — and Tuesday’s program consisted of three essential works by German composers spanning the 80 years between the classical and romantic periods. The evening began with Trio in G Minor, Op. 63 (1819) by Carl Maria von Weber, and featured Carrie-Ann Matheson on piano and Timothy Day on flute. This unusual arrangement gave the cello part to Benjamin Kamins on bassoon, which added a reedy delicacy to the sound, but lacked the grounding and heft usually brought in by the cello. Nevertheless, this wonderful performance reminded us of the romantic brilliance of Weber’s imagination.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493 (1786) is one of only two piano quartets by the composer, likely a form of his own invention through the addition of viola to the piano trio. Collaborative pianist extraordinaire Warren Jones was joined by violinist Kathleen Winkler, Phelps, and Alan Stepansky on cello. Although there is a lot of sunshine to this piece, a striking interlude unfolds during the middle “Larghetto” movement, where the strings move through a series of dark chord modulations while the piano threads a steady line of arpeggios. The final “Allegretto” movement included a humorous wink that drew a laugh from the audience on Tuesday, when Jones and Winkler seemed to be vying to place the last teetering note atop an ascending phrase.
The final piece, Horn Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 40 (1865) by Johannes Brahms, is unique in classical repertoire for giving the horn an equal role with violin and piano in an intimate chamber setting. Brahms sought to enhance the pastoral nostalgia associated with the mellow tone of the horn by insisting on the use of the natural (valveless) instrument — a score direction probably universally ignored today. Nor was it missed in the artistry of Julie Landsman, a new Music Academy faculty member who has just retired after 25 years as principal horn for the Metropolitan Opera. Melodic parallels with the violin were balanced, and solo passages demonstrated great control at low volume. Shaham brought characteristic authority and fiery attention to the violin part, scooting to the edge of his seat with every surge of phrasing, rear foot balanced on toe. Brahms’s formidable hands were inhabited by Juilliard’s Jonathan Feldman, who completed the trio on piano. A happy audience departed with the tuneful call from the finale echoing through the forests of the mind.