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Originally published Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 12:45 PM

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Review: Loose string enhances, doesn't detract from, evening's beauty at chamber music fest

A night of dramatic, sensuous music and a loose viola string blended into a provocative night of concert-going at the Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival on Monday night.

Special to The Seattle Times

CMS Summer Festival

7 p.m. recital, 8 p.m. concert, Friday, The Overlake School, 20301 N.E. 108th St., Redmond; $10, $38, $44 (206-283-8808 or

A gasp of breath. A trickle of sweat. Limbs moving in a matched rhythm.

Sit close enough to the stage to notice such details, and you're close enough to understand the total sensuous immersion of live chamber music.

And when things go awry — as they did Monday night at the Seattle Chamber Music Society's Summer Festival, when one of the strings on Richard O'Neill's viola went lame — the entire experience is somehow even more thrilling.

The program promised a torrid night despite the cool temperatures, and the opening caress of Joaquin Turina's sultry, Spanish-inflected Piano Trio in B minor was just the thing to get everyone in the mood. Stefan Jackiw's violin and Edward Arron's cello entwined around each other almost obsessively as Anna Polonsky's shimmering piano provided a silken backdrop.

By contrast, Beethoven's "Razumovksy" Quartet No. 9 seemed to give the cold shoulder as violinists Augustin Hadelich and Scott Yoo, violist O'Neill and cellist Ronald Thomas wove a suspended web of eerily modern dissonance.

But this premonitory mood dispersed as quickly as it established itself, with the players weaving their motifs and themes into a sturdily classical brocade, the intricacy of which was dazzling. Hadelich's elegant violin playing was remarkable; consummately controlled, he does not indulge in excess, yet shapes every note with deep feeling.

The four players had reached a fever pitch when suddenly a hole opened up in the music; at the same time, I saw O'Neill's loose string. He soon gave up his impossible attempts to play around it. No matter — the audience was more than happy to listen to a reprise of the dizzying run of virtuosity that concludes this quartet, after he ran backstage to fix the problem and returned with a grinning invitation, "You wanna hear it again?"

Sometimes, flaws enhance a perfect surface more than they detract from it, like a mole. O'Neill's broken string served as the beauty mark for that performance, which richly deserved its wild applause.

Josef Suk's Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 8 added its own high note of drama to this provocative evening. After opening with the bell-like clarion of Orion Weiss's piano playing off the furious unanimity of the strings (violinists Joseph Lin and James Ehnes, violist Lily Francis, cellist Robert deMaine), the piece shifted into the wonderfully fizzy Presto, where Francis's tender viola was particularly lovely.

The blazing finale swept all the players up with its flickering motifs and burning embers of rhythm. We might have been all been gypsies holding our hands out to the bonfire of sensation on stage.

Friday's concert concludes the series. With the high temperatures and a decadent program of Brahms (Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano ), Arensky's Piano Trio in D minor and Dvorak's Quintet in A Major, it promises to be another sizzler.

Sumi Hahn:

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