The enthusiastic audiences who turn out for the weekly concerts featuring solely the student participants of the Sarasota Music Festival know what to expect. The concerts are long, but filled with a variety of chamber music nearly always exquisitely performed.
Passionate energy is the rule. Many are playing the great works for the first time and their fresh zeal infuses the music. Beethoven's Quintet for piano and winds benefited from the spot-on unison and clarity of the youthful ensemble in the rendition of the first movement Grave-Allegro ma non troppo. The Wind Quintet by Denmark's notable Carl Nielsen is a particularly delicious piece for this grouping, and the students performed the Praeludium-Adagio con variazioni with great technical command and maturity.
Of course, not once in the evening was technical ability an issue. Ravel's only String Quartet is ravishingly beautiful relying on fluidity and swells of sound surging, ebbing, swirling. Only an occasional hiccup in the ensemble disturbed this lush performance.
If we are expecting thrills, then the explosive outbursts marked the Brahms' Piano Quintet in f, Op. 34 as one of the more exciting moments. In terms of making the heart race, it was topped by a bravura performance of the Sebes (Fast Dance) from Bartok's Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano that took us on a gritty, whirling ride with slides and twirls. It takes a good dose of bravery to strike the music as these three did. The Dvorak Piano Quintet that followed lacked this polish and verve, but had a pleasing way about it.
The Archduke Piano Trio is a standout in even Beethoven's catalogue. The pianist here was exhilarating and the interplay with violin and cello was delightful as well. The same lovely quality was there for Schumann's Fairy Tales trio of clarinet, viola and piano and the very tuneful Grieg String Quartet.
While many of these selections are from old favorites, such as the gypsy frenzy of Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1 in g, Op. 25 and its Rondo alla Zingarese, less familiar, but no less enjoyable works stand beside them. The Grieg String Quartet is one and its Un poco andante-Allegro molto was delivered with comfortable ease.
If I had to choose a favorite, I would go for less familiar programming in the Prokofiev Quintet for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and bass. Not only is the instrumentation a fresh delight, but bassist Nina DeCesare was riveting with her virtuosic display. The entire ensemble was visibly relishing this music and playing it at top form. We have more of this before the festival ends, yes?
STUDENT PARTICIPANT CONCERT, Sarasota Music Festival. Reviewed June 16 at Holley Hall. Additional student and faculty concerts through June 22. 953-3434; www.SarasotaOrchestra.org.