In her first season as artistic director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, Melissa Reardon has largely maintained the traditions established by the festival’s founder, Jennifer Elowitch. Her programming of the main festival concerts at Hannaford Hall follows Elowitch’s pattern of mixing established masterworks with contemporary works and 20th century rarities. And to play them, she assembles ensembles of mostly young players, some already established, others at the start of their careers but already regarded as promising.

That said, Reardon is already experimenting with new twists that will put her own stamp on the festival. There have been more concerts outside the two weeks of the main festival, including several at Space, and both in the summer festival and in the Space concerts, she has introduced Chamber Pop, a crossover series that can be an interesting sideline, so long as it doesn’t proliferate to the point where its overtakes the festival’s principal musical mission.

Portland Chamber Music Festival artistic director Melissa Reardon performs at Space in Portland. Photo courtesy of PCMF

That mission was fully on display Thursday evening, in a program that included Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet (K. 581) and Schumann’s Piano Quartet (Op. 47), framing a vital but more rarely heard work by Prokofiev, the Sonata for Two Violins (Op. 56).

The Mozart, written in 1789, two years before the composer’s death at age 35, has that otherworldly quality that makes his late works so irresistible. Everything you expect is there: The courtly language and structural symmetry of the Classical era are fully in place, as is the clarity of texture and clean lines that give each strand of instrumental interplay a distinct character. Yet there is something extra that you don’t hear in the music of Mozart’s contemporaries, or even in Mozart’s earlier works – a depth that defies analysis, and is often called spirituality, partly for lack of a more precise term, and partly because it just feels right.

That is especially so in the slow movement, which is tinged with the same sort of heart-rending but elevated melancholy you hear in “Dove Sono” and “Porgi Amor,” the Countess’ two central arias in “The Marriage of Figaro,” composed three years earlier. Alexander Fiterstein, the clarinetist, played the line in that spirit, with an almost vocal inflection and purity of tone.

Fiterstein brought that same warmth, though channeled through a brighter filter, to the lively opening Allegro, the graceful Menuetto and the bright-hued, lively finale, and his colleagues – violinists Jesse Mills and Susie Park, Reardon on viola and Karen Ouzounian, cellist – produced a plush ensemble sound, and characterful individual interactions in the work’s elaborate interplay.

Alexi Kenney and Tai Murray followed the Mozart with a vigorous performance of Prokofiev’s two-violin work. Composed in 1932, the Sonata does not yet show the bitterness that became part of Prokofiev’s music (like Shostakovich’s) after Stalin had more time to mess him around. But you do get some of Prokofiev’s trademark steeliness, in the brusque second movement, as well as his evocative wintery sound, in the slow movement.

Kenney and Murray did a superb job of making Prokofiev’s spare scoring sound rich and full-bodied, as if they were a full quartet, while also creating an flexible, fully responsive balance between the two lines.

The second half of the program was devoted to the Schumann, in a beautifully shaped, steamily Romantic performance by violinist Park, violist Dov Scheindlin, cellist Clancy Newman (whose own work “Collision Course” opens the final program Saturday) and pianist Robert McDonald. The ensemble handled the frequent shifts of focus and tempo in the opening movement with a compelling fluidity. Another highlight, though a fleeting one, was the degree to which the players brought out the almost Mendelssohnian sprightliness of the Scherzo. And the passion and energy with which they played the finale was perfectly calibrated.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

Twitter: kozinn

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