What is 40? The new 30, or the old 50? The beginning of adulting?
Whatever that benchmark implies, at four decades the Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival feels Romantic, a little classical, somewhat blue, but stoutly resolute.
Through the music of Rachmaninov, Dvorak and others, that is. The CCCMF began its 40th season celebration Thursday evening at the Simon Center at Falmouth Academy, with the all-Russian Hermitage Piano Trio performing a program both familiar and unfamiliar.
Hermitage—Misha Keylin, violin; Sergey Antonov, cello; Ilya Kazantsev, piano—have long been based in the United States. Good for us. The dynamic trio has a kind of swaying kinship onstage that covers all the entrances, but allows for lots of freedom. They introduced rarer works from Aleksandr Alyabyev and Horatio Parker, mixing them with Rachmaninov’s “Trio élégiaque” and the centerpiece of the evening, Dvorak’s F minor trio.
In an art-form that relies too much on just a few composers, it’s always illuminating to hear forgotten pieces. Alyabyev wrote one incomplete movement in 1812 that stands as tall and proud as Haydn. Parker (one of Ives’s teachers) created his melodic if predictable four-movement suite in 1904.
It might be interesting to hear what Ives thought. Each of Parker’s movements began the same way: violin melody, cello repeat, piano working under. The minuet had some sparkle, but the music was hardly virtuosic, and foursquare to the beat at all times. It was avidly played, however—a vigorous presentation of this long-silent piece.
Rachmaninov’s first elegy takes a four-note melody, then pulls and yanks at it like taffy. It doesn’t really sound like theme-and-variations, but by the end the tune becomes a grim march. Antonov carved up that melody in multiple insightful ways, when it came around to the cello.
The expansive Dvorak quartet, one of his memorable chamber works, closed the festival-opening concert. With forty minutes of music, boldly played, too much could be said.
The frequent repeats—a chance to hear again—and the wisps of returning melodies at the conclusion, made Dvorak’s rich ideas come back multiple ways—all you could ask for.
The Cape Cod Chamber Music Festival runs through Aug. 23 at various venues. Upcoming programs include appearances by four noted quartets: Jupiter, Emerson, Borromeo and Miró, whose residency closes the festival. For tickets and information visit www.capecodchambermusic.org or call 508-247-9400.
Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to email@example.com.