When the master musicians of the fifth annual Verão Clássico Festival e Academia presented their second MasterFest concert it was all about Romanticism in chamber music. And while Hummel's remarkable Piano Quintet with double bass might seem on the surface to be an updated Mozart – perhaps of the G minor Piano Quartet K.487 with more charm, a promiscuous abundance of tunes, and significantly less depth in its treatment of those tunes as basically separate rather than forming a unity of ideas – Katya Apekisheva and friends made a persuasive case for it to be heard as a transitional grand romantic concerto deserving of belonging in such august company.

Jack Liebeck and Katya Apekisheva © Rita Carmo
Jack Liebeck and Katya Apekisheva
© Rita Carmo

It was once an obscure curiosity, starting off in E flat minor no less. But now Hummel's relentlessly euphonious, occasionally glorious Quintet has been recorded more than a dozen times, ranging from the period instrument Nepomuk Fortepiano Quintet to the modern instrument Wanderer Trio with friends. None of the recordings, however, compared to the uninterrupted flow of intoxicating beauty and virtuoso energy, exemplified at its most glorious in Apekisheva's sublime lyrical solo in the Allegro risoluto e assai on Wednesday night.

Despite the huge piano part, Hummel did not exactly neglect the strings, all of whom made significant contributions most notably a series of juicy viola solos played by Tatjana Masurenko with often inimitable, unashamed portamento. Their Minuet and Trio captured the brilliant bravura spirit of Hummel, throwing in exaggerated slurs, trading private little jokes, and giving the repeat as many dynamic contrasts as it could stand. In the Largo, Apekisheva's big solo was rich and sweet in roulades, turns and trills that were as delicious as the famed Belém pastries. In the Finale they found a perfect exhilarating speed, with Saksala singing his riff more silkily smooth than any double bassist has a right to, more of Masurenko's addicting if idiosyncratic phrasings, and Apekisheva letting it rip. At the end the only hint that they had put the performance together with limited rehearsal time and only scant previous knowledge of the piece was reflected in the warmth of the hugs they exchanged, as if they were glad to have pulled it off.

Schumann's Piano Quintet © Rita Carmo
Schumann's Piano Quintet
© Rita Carmo

The Schumann Quintet, which most professional chamber music player know by heart, was something entirely different, light, swift and perfect in its ensemble work. Gary Hoffman was both solid and warm, using portamento exquisitely, the gut strings on his cello making a moving difference with their softer character, Martin's elegant phrasing floating regally above the fray, and Pinto-Ribeiro working hand in glove with the strings, his lovely touch and superb sense of balance allowing his virtuoso piano part to work perfectly in league with the relatively simple but no less powerful or expressive strings. In the central dream section of In Modo d'una Marcia, Martin again showed the kind of extraordinary bow control which she had been demonstrating to her masterclass students the whole week. If there had been a complaint about the movement it would only have been lodged by charter members of the Why Do They Play The Dotted Quarters Like Triplets Club. Pinto-Ribeiro's dynamic piano energized the long-limbed Finale with a strong sense of purpose and direction in the fugues while Masurenko's viola solo was, as a welcome change of pace, a model of discretion.

Matthias and Anna Samuil © Rita Carmo
Matthias and Anna Samuil
© Rita Carmo

Opening the second half of the concert, Jack Liebeck and Apekisheva gave Clara Schumann's Three Romances Op.22, a lovely, affecting performance, contrasted with the wild imagination of her husband's Quintet, adorned with little loving trills, gently bringing out the intimate relationship between Liebeck's chaste lines and Apekisheva's [Robert] Schumannesque accompaniment.

Real-life lovebirds Anna and Matthias Samuil came on stage for Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder, Anna maintaining the sweetness of her voice even as it expanded into the Pequeno Auditorio, an ideal example of transporting Wagnerian poetry into the drawing room. She was proud at times, like an operatic heroine or a lioness, and Matthias was always at her side, musically sensitive with a marvelous postlude in Im Tribhaus. Their magical Morgen! explained why wind teachers use string players and singers as examples of natural sound production and phrasing, string teachers refer only to singers, and singers remain their own reference.

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