By MIKE DUNHAM
The Alaska Airlines Autumn Classics chamber music series kicked off on Friday and, for the first time in memory, founder Paul Rosenthal was not in the picture.
“It’s the first time that the entire series has been my vision,” said cellist Zuill Bailey, the new director of the Classics and its parent organization, the Sitka Summer Music Festival.
Bailey came out as the audience was still finding their seats, causing a bit of trepidation among those who thought a program change might be announced. Someone a couple of aisles from me whispered something to the effect that Eduard Zilberkant, the pianist, was fighting off a bug. But in fact Bailey merely greeted the crowd, made a few comments about the festival under his stewardship and set the music on the stands.
The evening opened with Mozart’s Oboe Quartet in F, featuring Caherine Weinfield on the woodwind. Elmar Oliveira and his wife, Sandra Robbins, took the violin and viola parts, respectively, with Bailey on cello. The first movement went perfunctorily but the slow movement was lovely. The finale bubbled appropriately, but ended on a sour note, literally, when Weinfield hit a pitch that was not part of the F Major chord that everyone else was playing.
Oliveira, Robbins and Bailey then played Beethoven’s Trio in C Minor, a work as dense and monumental as any of his symphonies, yet executed on just three instruments. It was a satisfying reading. The swells and diminuendos were well-coordinated and unified, the sforzandos bright and confident. The players elegantly served the composer – and amazed the listeners – in the way they presented the work’s studied complexity and panoramic sprawl with clarity and consistent direction.
The same approach and craft crowned the evening when the three returned for Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G Minor. Zilberkant seemed attentive to riding the volume of the big piano and not swamping the strings. Or perhaps they swept their bows with such intensity that they would have held their own regardless. It was an energetic and effusive delivery, the Andante sung at full voice and the wild Gypsy finale stomping and spitting fire. If Zilberkant was ailing there was little evidence of it; perhaps a few missing notes in one of the frantic runs of the conclusion and the sweat stains on his shirt as he took his bows during the standing ovation.
But, in truth, Grant Hall was quite warm on Friday night. Patrons willingly walked outside and stood in the rain to cool down during intermission.
More heat is anticipated at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. It appeared that a few seats on the sides might still be available. Tickets are available at centertix.net.