The traits that make the orchestral player do not necessarily translate to chamber music, but you never would have known that from hearing violinist Amy Lee on Friday night at the Curtis Institute of Music. The 2005 Curtis grad is now associate concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, an ensemble whose defining characteristic is its exquisite precision. That Lee reflected the Cleveland philosophy was hardly surprising. The extent of her individualized approach, however, suggested she doesn't need an interpretive assist from the podium.
Hearing summer sounds at Curtis is a new development. While much of Philadelphia's classical world trots off to Maine or Marlboro, Curtis has started something called Summerfest, a camp of lessons and coachings, with such faculty as Lee as the program's public face in three concerts. The second, in Field Concert Hall, brought a wonderful jolt of established Curtis insiders with outside talent that Curtis should tap more often.
Lee's big statement came in the Dvorák Trio in E Minor, Opus 90, "Dumky," with cellist Priscilla Lee and pianist Amy J. Yang. Violinist Lee used a variety of timbres, all distinct and employed to smart ends, but her extended melody in the last movement was emblematic of her approach: expressive but not overwrought, beautifully detailed, with a fine-grained sound. Yang and Lee had the kind of rapport that made certain doublings ring. Dvorák's soulfulness was sweet, but never treacly.
Yang imported Charles Abramovic from Temple's faculty for Poulenc's Sonata for Piano Four Hands in a performance of such precision and fireworks that it suggested a four-hand partnership with a future. The piece - Poulenc on Stravinsky - dazzles naturally, but so did the players for all the alternating explosiveness, warmth, and clarity they brought to it. In Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, Temple faculty harpist Kimberly Rowe impressed most with a spectrum of colors, all within a subtle, chamber music sound that was never bright or harsh.
Two newer works took inspiration from different sources. Kenji Bunch's We'd Better Call for Backup, played by violists Toby Appel and Brenton Caldwell, was short, bluesy, and encore-ish. Curtis Dean David Ludwig used a Voyager image of Earth as a point of departure in Pale Blue Dot for string quartet, weaving in allusions to a piece on the two Voyager probes' Golden Record, the "Cavatina" from Beethoven's Opus 130 string quartet. Ludwig's work had programmatic contours; the cold voids of space came through loud and clear, making the juxtaposed warmth of humanity and its achievements seem at once larger, and all the more unlikely.