(This review was written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Luke Quinton.)
Yep, it’s festival season again — Austin’s premiere classical music fest, from the Austin Chamber Music Center, is busy occupying recital halls and alt venues (more on that later) of the city through July 19 with a slew of concerts from national acts that stretch the chamber music spectrum.
Sunday’s concert at Bates Recital Hall was a touch of the old guard: an all-Beethoven concert featuring pianist Peter Serkin, a Grammy-winning name that should ring a few bells, and violinist Ida Kavafian.
The outline was three sonatas and a set of 12 variations on Mozart’s "Se Vual Ballare," as a palate cleanser.
The sonatas are wonderful in parts, and in other sections, remind us why Beethoven wrote symphonies.
The first, "No. 6, in A Major" had speckles of intrigue; some subtle, stylish lines from Serkin’s piano. But the bulk felt a little too slow and tired as an opener, despite some nice voicing from Kavafian’s violin in gentler sections.
But the next Sonata reminded you what the master of symphonies could do with just two players — cramming bravado, dynamic range and drama into a tidy package.
The Variations, ACMC’s Michelle Schumann explained, were written as party pieces, and you can see why. Little dissonant bursts from the violin are paired with hummable tunes on the piano. Here too was a thoughtful solo from Serkin: gentle yet decisive.
These concerts focusing on a single composer are trickier to manage than some realize. When Austin’s Miró Quartet played their Beethoven cycle a few years back, they picked from the span of the composer’s career, to make a concert with a lot of diversity.
This program didn’t strike quite the same balance, though it was warmly played. Not to mention that Serkin, who’s a dedicated modernist partly responsible for connecting Takemitsu and other Japanese composers to the Western scene, has decades of rep to choose from.
Music abounds in the rest of the fest. The 7th Annual Pride Concert, a pair of progressive ensembles — Break of Reality and the jazzy Time For Three. There’s also the Brazilian Guitar Quartet, American String Quartet and Trio Con Brio Copenhagen. Phew.