Unabashed melody is what Sunday afternoon's Linton Series concert was about. There was Haydn, his Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello, Op. 53, No. 1, then Mozart's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, then Schubert with his Quintet for Piano and Strings, the "Trout."
It was almost an embarrassment of riches, but no one was complaining.
The program was one thing. Then there were the artists, with pianist Andre Watts, violinists Jaime Laredo and Timothy Lees, cellist Sharon Robinson, violist Ik-Hwan Bae, clarinetist Richard Hawley and double bassist Owen Lee. First Unitarian Church in Avondale was packed for the occasion. Chairs had to be brought in and every space was occupied.
Watts was guest artist Friday and Saturday with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (Linton has made it a special feature of the series to present CSO guests during their visits to the city). He seemed enjoy himself enormously, giving credence to Linton's motto: "Music making among friends."
One of those friends, clarinetist Hawley, will be a little less accessible after this season. Principal clarinetist of the CSO, Hawley is leaving the orchestra to join the faculty of the Shepherd School of Music in Houston.
Hawley will be sorely missed. His playing of the Mozart Quintet tempted the word "perfect," for, as is customary with him, everything was in place -- tonally, rhythmically and above all, musically. The gentle, "East Side, West Side" opening gave way to some gorgeous interaction within the ensemble. Hawley and Laredo in particular provided the perfect complement to each other, Laredo's sweet vibrato sounding luscious against Hawley's pellucid tone. The lively Rondo gave everyone a chance to shine, including violist Brae, who rendered the somewhat mournful viola episode with smoothness and grace.
(I can testify that Hawley's performance brought at least one member of the audience to tears. One hopes that he will be a guest of the Linton Series in the future.)
Schubert's Quintet for Piano and Strings in A Major, the "Trout," is songfulness at its best, not only in the variations on his famous lied "Die Forelle" ("The Trout"), but throughout. It was fun to watch the musicians. Lee, a characteristically demonstrative player, made clear in his facial expressions and gestures the joy of playing chamber music for the less utilized double bass (who even gets the melody once or twice). Watts was often the center of attention with his bright tone and elegant phrasing, typically capped by a flourish of the hand.
The variations (fourth movement) sparkled from the outset, where Laredo stated the theme with all the right buoyancy and emphasis. Everyone got a crack at it. giving it their signature color and flavor. The rondo finale was one melody after another, bringing the crowd to its feet.
The concert opened with Haydn's Trio Op. 53. Not called "Papa" Haydn for nothing, he is always welcome on concert programs - and usually packs some surprises. So did this trio (arranged from a set of piano sonatas). In two movements, both in variations form on a related theme, it is a workout for the violinist, who ornaments the theme to the nth degree, sometimes in quirky fashion. The second movement (Presto) was brisk, too, almost a race to the finish.
Speaking of trout, a presentation was made after intermission just before the Schubert Quintet. Linton board member Lee Meyer introduced Leroy Nelson, a member of the Linton family, who is retiring after 18 years after attending to its needs, including setting up the platform for the players and providing refreshments for the crowd at intermission. When asked what he was going to do in retirement he said "go fishin'"