MARK GRESHAM | 12 JUL 2021 for EarRelevant
CASHIERS, NC— Violinist Cho-Liang Lin was featured guest artist at the Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival in a program this past Saturday in Cashiers, North Carolina at the Festival’s new performance space in Cashiers, the Village Green Commons. The program was a repeat of one performed in nearby Highlands the previous evening.
Violinist Ray Chen was originally scheduled to appear but months ago declined to make the trip from Taiwan due to travel and pandemic concerns, stating that he will be doing no concertizing until the fall season. Artistic director William Ransom then called upon Lin, a former Juilliard School colleague from their student days and now with a well-established international career, to take Chen’s place.
Lin has championed composers of our time both through commissioning new works and through performance. For this concert, however, the repertoire was drawn from the classical canon – Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn. Of his two violins, Lin chose to perform this concert on his 1715 “Titian” Stradivari.
The program opened with Mozart’s Duo No. 1 in G major, K. 423, performed by violinist Cho-Liang Lin and violist Yinzi Kong. It is the first of two duos for violin and viola that Mozart wrote on commission to complete Michael Haydn’s set of six for the Archbishop Colloredo. The set was presented as being all written by Haydn, and Colloredo did not know Mozart had written the last two, despite some of the latter’s noticeable workmanship, which includes a more egalitarian relationship between violin and viola. This was reflected in the performance by the vivid dialog between Lin and Kong, which resulted in a vibrant rendering.
Next, Lin was joined by pianist William Ransom for the Sonata in A Major, Op. 100 by Johannes Brahms. It is the shortest and most radiant of Brahms’s three violin sonatas as well as the most musically challenging, especially in terms of balancing its lyrical and virtuosic aspects. That balance becomes more challenging when the small grand piano, as in this case, has a sound that feels smothered and the sonic equivalent of “very beige” rather than feeling open and natural – a greater challenge for the pianist alone, as well as for violin and piano to meld together on a single sonic plane. That’s a problem the Festival needs to fix.
The concert’s golden crown came after intermission: Felix Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20. The composer was only 16 years old when he composed it. Filled with a youthful energy and brilliance, it is a remarkably mature composition for someone that age. The first of the four movements by itself takes up about half of the work’s total duration of about a half hour.
The ensemble of four violins, two violas and two cellos produced a sound with a wonderfully rich texture, even if on the brighter side. But there was also clarity, even if missing a certain enveloping warmth. Most importantly, the quality of musical performance was excellent.
Important to note here that Village Green Commons is an “event venue” not a dedicated concert hall. The emphasis of the design is evidently one of appearance and flexible use. One of the downsides for a classical concert is that when the air conditioning compressor kicks in, it is conspicuous. An only slightly less distracting factor is that the wall at the back of the fixed stage is windows, so while the musicians are performing the audience is also seeing passing traffic behind them.
Nevertheless it is a big step up from the little auditorium at the local public library where the Festival previously held its concerts, just a little father down the same road. Although it doesn’t really seat more audience, Village Green Commons is much more spacious, especially with its 30 foot ceiling peak and the numerous windows near the ceiling which allow for generous indirect natural light.
This was only the second concert the Festival has performed in this space. The first was Pinchas Zukerman Trio on July 5, and the next will be tonight’s performance by the Rasa String Quartet. The Festival continues through August 8. For tickets and more information: h-cmusicfestival.org ■
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