Published February 16. 2013 9:30PM Updated February 16. 2013 11:13PM
Old Lyme — Ah, the tricks fate plays on us … When Musical Masterworks' big-name star, pianist Jeremy Denk, canceled his appearance, and then the scheduled violinist was forced out by an injury, artistic director and cellist Edward Arron had to scramble to conjure up substitute musicians and material.
The result: As fine a concert Saturday as any of us have heard in Old Lyme, with a dash of extra sizzle.
That sizzle was provided by the local debut of violinist Tessa Lark, a 23-year-old Kentucky native with a dominating musical presence. Her combination of a rich, robust sound, even high in the register, technical control and phrasing that makes even the quickest presto seem unrushed, and a sense of surety seasoned with a distinctive personality, makes Lark stand out from America's talented pack of young virtuosos.
"She is wise beyond her years," Arron said in the introduction.
Lark's command of both the material and the audience made this writer recall seeing a teenager named Hilary Hahn for the first time. This is a special artist.
The program will be repeated this afternoon at the First Congregational Church. If you missed Saturday's concert, you should be there.
The winner of the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Competition, Lark opened the program with one of the most profound — and daunting — works in the repertoire: Bach's Chaconne from the D Minor partita for solo violin. Lark immersed herself in the 15-minute work's emotional struggle, texturing the brooding passages in both dynamics and pacing. Her approach to this revered score was utterly situational, at times in mourning, at times seething, often contemplative, and occasionally racing in terror from unseen hellhounds.
When the hymnlike major key central section began, her phrasing was achingly fragile and exposed. She swayed as she stepped out bravely into the rising figures in scales, ending with high and mighty ringing cadences in stops, before a fall from grace — and the major — her face masked in pain.
At the conclusion, the audience gave her repeated ovations. Her performance was, quite simply, electrifying.
She was joined by Arron and his favorite pianist, his wife Jeewon Park, for Arvo Pärt's 1992 Mozart-Adagio for Piano Trio, a short, intense exploration of the dissonances in Mozart's F major piano sonata. Here, too, Lark was magnetic, seeming to draw Arron, her string partner in dissonance, into Pärt's austere world.
The mood brightened and pianist Park took command for Haydn's Piano Trio No. 14 in A-flat Major, a playful antidote to the profundity that preceded it. Park is a frequent Masterworks performer, and her grasp of the architecture of a large-scale work is her hallmark. She is the rock upon which many a successful performance is built, and the Haydn was no exception. Park was especially fine spinning lyricism in the oddly irregular phrases of the slow movement.
The concert ended with Schubert's beloved Piano Trio in E-flat Major, one of Schubert's masterpieces of his miracle year, the last year of his life when he seemed to be racing against death. "You have a feeling Schubert already has one foot in the afterlife, the melodies are so sublime," Arron said, noting that attending performances of this trio by the Beaux Arts Trio as a boy "had a lot to do with what I do now."
You couldn't have asked for a finer performance than Saturday's. Arron, gifted by Schubert with the trio's big theme, was simply transported. Park once again was the heart of it, driving the propulsive dance rhythms and grand cadencial gestures. And Lark brought a sense of freshness and her very personal voice, as if in discovery of this music by and of youth.
The work is long, and the performance was committed and endearing. It seemed the three musicians carried the impulse of that young genius dying at 30: Don't stop, don't stop …