At first glance, Tuesday night's SummerFest '89 program looked like a preview for this fall's Soviet arts festival. After a polite beginning with a Beethoven cello sonata, two major Soviet works from the mid-century, by Shostakovich and Prokofiev, were performed back to back.
This rare opportunity to compare these two works in live performance was not, however, the original design of festival director Heiichiro Ohyama. In his usual fashion, Ohyama intended to follow the Prokofiev with a palliative, the congenial idiom of Dvorak's Piano Quartet. When Andre Previn had to be replaced with Russian pianist Yefim Bronfman), the Dvorak was scrapped and replaced with the Shostakovich.
After Sunday's performance of Mel Powell's 1982 Quartet, the rumor may spread that SummerFest has become a hotbed of modernism in spite of itself. At very least, the enthusiastic reception the Sherwood Auditorium audience lavished on the Shostakovich Piano Trio at the program's conclusion demonstrated that SummerFest audiences do not need to be protected from the music of their own century. It required no graduate degree in music theory to appreciate the transcendent performance violinist Cho-Liang Lin, cellist Gary Hoffman and Bronfman gave Shostakovich's demanding musical monument to the anguish of war.
Completed in 1944 and composed during some of World War II's darkest hours, the Piano Trio in E Minor, Op. 67, encompasses the composer's outrage and elegy. Tuesday's compelling performance deftly balanced austere introspection and passionate outburst. The finale's frenzied dance section was simultaneously demonic and life-affirming in its fury. And, although the three players exhibited an uncanny concentration and unanimity of purpose, Lin's absolute purity of tone and exquisite phrasing raised the Trio performance to an incandescent level. Bronfman proved a strong but supportive collaborator, choosing a less aggressive keyboard approach than the one he used for Sunday's Brahms' Piano Quintet.
Prokofiev's Quintet in G Minor, Op. 39, for three strings and two woodwinds, first performed in 1927, is actually a suite salvaged from a failed ballet, "Trapeze." A welcome antidote to the facile idiom of the composer's more familiar concert works (the "Classical" Symphony and Third Piano Concerto, for example), the quintet's sardonic counterpoint elicits an intellectual response rather than a warm, emotional outpouring. Violinist Masuko Ushioda and oboist Gerard Reuter provided unbending, vigorous leadership in this satisfying interpretation.