PARK CITY/SALT LAKE CITY MUSIC FESTIVAL, Temple Har Shalom, Park City, Aug. 9 (www.pcmusicfestival.com)
Saving the best for the end, two of the most widely known chamber works of the 19th century were featured at Sunday's Park City and Salt Lake City Music Festival concert, the second to last of its summer season.
Playing to a standing room only audience in the near acoustically perfect Temple Har Shalom, the concert paired Mendelssohn's dynamic Piano Trio in D minor, op. 49, with Schumann's mellow Piano Quintet in E flat major, op. 44 — works that complement yet also set each other apart.
But before these two were played, violinist Manuel Ramos, a long-time guest with the festival, opened the matinee concert with six of the 24 caprices Paganini wrote for solo violin.
An exceptional musician, Ramos put on quite a display of violin artistry. These short pieces are extremely demanding in terms of technique, so that it becomes easy to overlook their musical side. But that wasn't the case with Ramos. He has what it takes to make them work: dexterity, technique and musicality.
Playing nos. 1, 2, 9, 13, 14 and 15, Ramos was mesmerizing with his pyrotechnic display. It was a joy watching him make short work of the challenges Paganini puts in front of the performer. It was dazzling and a wonderful way to start the concert.
After the caprices, Ramos returned with cellist Thomas Landschoot and pianist Doris Stevenson for Mendelssohn's trio.
Ramos' mellow tones and Landschoot's rich sound worked well together, and Stevenson's sonorous playing blended in nicely. They gave a dynamic reading that captured the romantic spirit of the trio, with its fiercely impassioned outer movements, the quixotic scherzo and the beautifully expressive Andante. The performance was nuanced and sensitive and wonderfully lyrical.
After intermission, violinist Charles Castleman and violist Leslie Harlow joined the others for a radiant account of the Schumann Piano Quintet.
The five played intuitively. Hearing them play made one realize that this is what chamber music is all about. They brought vitality and passion to their performance. It was dynamic and powerful, yet they also paid close attention to the small details of the score. Consequently, this was a finely sculpted and articulated reading that captured the work's subtleties and inner beauty. Their playing was bold and romantic in its lushness, but also infinitely expressive and filled with lyricism. And in all honesty, this was one of the best performances at this summer's festival.