FOR most of us who have rented a summer cottage, our main activities included lounging around on the deck, barbecuing, swimming and maybe some leisurely hikes or bike rides.
Not so for Johannes Brahms. The summer of 1886 was the first time he rented a house on Lake Thun in the Swiss Alps. During that summer, he composed three chamber works considered among the best-written. The beautiful surroundings doubtless shaped these pieces that made up opening night of the weeklong Agassiz Chamber Music Festival Saturday night.
The celebrated Toronto-based Gryphon Trio is the special guest ensemble this year, and they lived up to their superlative billing. Annalee Patipatanakoon, violin, Roman Borys, cello, and Jamie Parker, piano, play as a cohesive unit, melding every nuance, every expression as only a group that has been together nearly 20 years can. Their reading of Brahms' Piano Trio in C minor, Opus 101 grabbed listeners from the start with its intensely dramatic opening. From powerfully stormy to gently subtle, they moved through Brahms' many moods as if they were living them. Borys possesses a generous vibrato, swaying as he plays and keeping frequent eye contact with Patipatanakoon.
The lullaby-like andante began with the strings in a heartfelt duet. Parker responded, tinkling out the folk-like melody. Their playing has a natural quality, convincing us this is the way Brahms wanted this work performed.
The finale was grand, almost noble in its many dynamic swells and rhythmic variations. The music flowed over the audience in gorgeous waves, washed with feeling. Patipatanakoon dug in with extra edge, still maintaining a solid, rich tone. The entire movement dripped with emotion.
Festival artistic director Paul Marleyn and Parker started the evening with Brahms' Sonata for Piano and Cello in F, Opus 99. It went from zero to heart-pounding in about a second, as this perfectly balanced duo burst into Brahms' signature passion instantly. Parker's playing was wonderfully fluid, with a crisp clarity enunciating every rippling note. Marleyn was at his best, playing with graceful ease. This is a work obviously close to his heart, as he transferred every feeling to the audience with spacious, elegant bowing and a resonant and satisfying low register.
Quebec violinist Olivier Thouin performed Brahms' Sonata for Piano and Violin in A, Opus 100 with Parker. Thouin's playing has a unique voice characterized by full-bodied tone and confident delivery. Broad, distinctive strokes of the bow made his phrasing flawlessly smooth and even at his most assertive, his creamy tone never faltered. While a little more vibrato wouldn't have been out of place in the intriguing andante, Parker and Thouin found just the right spirit and gave this a thoughtful and touching interpretation.
The festival continues until Friday.
Agassiz Chamber Music Festival
Crescent Fort Rouge United Church
June 9 Attendance: 205
****1/2 out of five