Spanning two days, June 20 and 22, the 2003 Chamber Music Festival offered its typically diverse programs. The first concert featured music by Beethoven, Rorem, and Mozart for more-traditional piano-trio, cello-and-piano, and string-quintet ensembles. Sunday’s concert was slightly more adventurous with music by Poulenc, Clarke, Mozart, and Brahms.
The programming was refreshingly diverse, but the playing was astounding. The musicians and ensembles demonstrated very clearly why they are all considered “up and comers.”
On Friday, Colin Carr and local favorite Thomas Sauer impressed the crowd with Beethoven’s Variations on (Mozart’s) Bei Mannern, Welche Liebe Fuhlen. Only about 11 minutes in length, the piece worked Carr and Sauer. Typical of Beethoven’s middle period, the piece is virtuosic with very little “storm and stress.” Each performer reveled in his own part without forgetting about the other. Carr, in particular, tackled the difficult cello part with aplomb and a smile on his face.
It was American composer Ned Rorem’s Spring Music for Piano Trio that stole the night. Though one of America’s most notable living composers, Rorem’s music is not standard fare in the concert hall. Thomas Sauer even mused that if the stars were aligned differently, Rorem would be as famous as the Dixie Chicks. Rorem’s work featured Serena Canin (violin), Thomas Sauer (piano), and Greg Sauer (cello), all local favorites and the same group that brought the area a dazzling performance of the Beethoven Triple Concerto. In fact, after the concerto, the Sauer-Canin Trio performed the Bagatalle movement of Spring Music to a captivated audience.
Hearing Rorem’s work in its entirety, it’s easy to see why the group chose the Bagatalle as an encore. The work was jagged and elongated. In a moment, the music switched from pulsing staccatos to extended lines. Rorem’s music dared the musicians and challenged their stamina, and the Sauer-Canin trio was up to the task. In fact, it was Canin’s and Greg Sauer’s work on the strings that was most mesmerizing.
Sunday’s concert was more diverse and just as well played. The addition of flautist Christina Jennings opened the door for Poulenc’s Sonata for Flute & Piano on the program. Jennings darted through the music, with Amanda Sauer providing clear accompaniment.
The gems of the first half were Rebecca Clarke’s two pieces for viola and cello. It’s unfortunate that Clarke’s music isn’t more widely played; lyrical and generally paying homage to the neglected viola, Clarke – with a little help from musicians – could become one of the UK’s top contemporary performers/composers, and certainly a significant female composer.
The second half unfolded in grand fashion with Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet in A Major. Accused of being too intricate, the A Major quartet is not as popular as his first, but Schubert’s and Haydn’s inventiveness stalk the work, and Joseph Joachim has suggested the Adagio was gripped with ambiguous passion.
On Sunday, Mark Steinberg (violin), Caroline Wolf (viola), Greg Sauer (cello), and Thomas Sauer (piano) could have turned any skeptic of the A Major quartet into a believer. I confess Sunday was only the second time I have ever heard the work performed live, but it was superior even compared to recordings of the work. Thomas Sauer’s Herculean effort on the piano was breathtaking. The strings were equally stunning in Poco adagio. Together they exhausted the devoted audience with unbridled playing in the rondo finale.
In its 11th year, the Chamber Music Quad Cities chamber-music festival is probably the best summer classical-music ticket in town. Audiences get diverse programs, topnotch performances, and a guaranteed reunion with some of the area’s finest musical products. The Quad Cities should hope the Sauers and their friends continue to see the Quad Cities as a worthwhile stop as their careers continue to bloom.