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Originally published July 16, 2013 at 12:09 PM | Page modified July 18, 2013 at 12:41 PM

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Britten dazzles at Seattle Chamber Music Society festival

Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, after some mishaps last week, hit exquisite heights Monday with performances of Britten’s Sonata for Cello and Piano and a Beethoven string trio. The festival continues through July 26.

Seattle Times arts writer

Concert review

Seattle Chamber Music Society Summer Festival

The festival continues through July 26, Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; 7 p.m. recitals are free, 8 p.m. concerts are ticketed; $15-$45 single ticket, $172-$516 for various multi-concert packages (206-283-8808 or www.seattlechambermusic.org).

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Last week’s Seattle Chamber Music Society (SCMS) Summer Festival was not without its share of mishaps.

At one concert, a tumbling-sheet-music upset briefly interrupted Mozart’s Divertimento for String Trio. At another, the threat of a fire put a total halt to the concert just as it was winding up. (A dumpster fire in the alley behind the Triple Door had sent smoke into Benaroya Hall’s ventilation system, prompting audience and musicians to head for the exits in an orderly manner.)

So at this week’s first concert, on Monday, it was a great relief to have the whole program unfold without any extra-musical distractions.

As for the music itself, it hit some exquisite heights, especially in Beethoven’s String Trio in C minor, Op. 9 No. 3, and Britten’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 65.

The Beethoven opened the concert. Karen Gomyo (violin), Richard O’Neill (viola) and Edward Arron (cello) brought a sure touch to the first movement’s solemn vigor, as well as a stately choral melancholy to the second movement’s mix of angst and melodicism.

In the edgy frolic of the third movement, they nailed all the warps and wit innate in the music. The finale, marked “Presto,” found them keeping the lyrical elements as spare as possible while etching the composer’s intricate rhythms on their instruments as finely as patterns onto crystal. Gomyo showed a special knack for lightly glancing at notes where another violinist might have milked them. The result: a sharp, brisk take on a seductive work by a triumvirate impeccably balanced and rich in its sound.

The Britten was the dazzler, though. Debuted in 1961 by legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich with Britten on piano, the Sonata unfolds in five movements that offer sharp contrasts of mood, timbre and character. From the first opening notes, cellist Robert deMaine was fine-tuned to the score’s playfulness and intensity. He had lithe, subtle accompaniment from pianist Jeewon Park.

In the somber moments of the opening “Dialogo (Allegro)” and the middle movement, “Elegia (Lento),” the duo plumbed the turmoil in the music without sacrificing any of its clarity. In the pizzicato-fest of the second movement, deMaine’s skittering cello and Park’s nimble piano scampered together so precisely they drew an audible chuckle from the crowd.

In their hands, “Marcia (Energico)” was similarly feisty as its fierce march atomized into a fairy dust of tinkling piano keys and curling cello harmonics. The sparkling moto perpetuo that closes the piece — breathless at first, then increasingly percussive — instantly brought the audience to its feet.

After the crystalline shapeliness of the Britten, the four movements of Brahms’ Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 114, felt cut from softer and overly similar musical cloth. Sean Osborn (clarinet), Bion Tsang (cello) and Adam Neiman (piano) made fine work of its simultaneously lush and restless character, and were alert to the constant, elastic ebb-and-flow between their instruments. But the piece itself felt diffuse.

Monday’s free 7 p.m. recital provided a real treat with co-winners of the SCMS/KING FM Young Artist competition — violinist Sarah Hall and cellist Olivia Marckx — playing four short pieces. They were especially electric on Johan Halvorsen’s violin-cello transcription of Handel’s Passacaglia in G minor.

The festival enters its final stretch next week with plenty of goodies, including an American-flavored program on July 22 and a string quartet emphasis in the last two concerts.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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