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Originally published Tuesday, July 3, 2012 at 12:51 PM

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Scorching Bartok opened Seattle chamber-music fest

A review of the opening night of the 2012 Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival, which included a scorching rendition of the Bartok Violin Sonata No. 1 by festival artistic director James Ehnes and Jon Kimura Parker, artistic adviser of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival.

Special to The Seattle Times

ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCES

Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival

Concerts and free preconcert recitals continue Tuesday-July 29, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $45, $15 for students, (206-283-8808 or www.seattlechambermusic.org).
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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.

The program opened with the decorous little Beethoven Variations for Violin, Cello and Piano (Op. 44), a piece that had never been performed at this festival, and it was not hard to tell why; the inspiration in this youthful work was pretty uneven. Erin Keefe, Edward Arron and Jeewon Park gave it a detailed and committed performance.

The pianist Marc-André Hamelin was first among equals in his central role in the Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor (Op. 34), drawing a magisterial sound from the keyboard in playing that was refined and technically brilliant. With him all the way were violinists Andrew Wan and Augustin Hadelich, violist David Harding and cellist Bion Tsang. A festival that can place an exquisite talent like Hadelich in the second violin chair, by the way, is a festival rich indeed in artistic talent.

Meanwhile, there's much more to come: Trout (the Schubert-quintet variety) is on the menu for Tuesday, and on Friday the brilliant young violinist Marié Rossano plays the preconcert recital. Rain or shine, it's likely to be hot this week in the concert hall.

Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at mbargreen@aol.com.

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