Above: clarinetist David Shifrin
Tuesday October 21st, 2014 - The music of Johannes Brahms is well-represented at the great classical music venues of New York City this season. At the Philharmonic, Lisa Batiashvili just finished a series of concerts where she gave a resplendant reading of the composer's violin concerto. Upcoming Brahms events on my calendar include Yefim Bronfman playing the piano concerto #2 with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall (January 31st, 2015); a performance of the GERMAN REQUIEM at Carnegie with Daniele Gatti leading the Vienna Philharmonic (March 1st, 2015); an All-Brahms evening at Chamber Music Society on April 24th, 2015; and Jonathan Biss playing the piano concerto #1 with the New York Phiharmonic (May 21st - 23rd, 2015).
Tonight at Alice Tully Hall, the artists of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center carried the Brahms banner high in an evening devoted to some of the composer's most endearing, intimate works, all of which were composed during the final decade of his life.
My ability to concentrate was somewhat taxed this evening by small but pesky audience distractions, and an unfortunate late seating after the first movement of the opening work really broke the mood. But eventually the excellent music-making prevailed.
Timothy Eddy launched the Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114, with the warmth and richness of his tone immediately evoking the sensations of tenderness and regret that will colour the entire evening. David Shifrin, in his 26th year of performing with the Society, called forth the plum-coloured resonance of his clarinet, and Shai Wosner - a pianist new to me - played with elegance and impressive dynamic control. The blending of the three instruments in the adagio was particularly heartfelt.
Mr. Wosner returned for the Sonata in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108, with violinist Erin Keefe who looked lovely in a midnight-hued pleated chiffon gown. The two musicians immediately established a fine rapport and together they poured forth the melodic themes in an unending stream of poignant lyricism. Ms. Keefe, in the sonata's gently romantic adagio, moved compellingly from the delicacies of the initial passages to the more passionate expressions as the music flows forward. In the sentimental intermezzo that follows, both players ideally sustained the mood, carrying us into the finale where the two musicians spurred one another on with playing that managed to be both eloquent and lively.
After the interval, pianist Shai Wosner (above) took the stage alone for two brief solo keyboard works: the Intermezzo in E-flat major, Op. 117, No. 1, and the Rhapsody in E-flat major, Op. 119, No. 4. The Intermezzo's melody is drawn from a lullabye associated with Lady Anne Bothwell, a young 16th century Scotswoman who was classically seduced and abandoned, singing to her infant son. Mr. Wosner's refined playing here held the hall in a rapt silence before giving way to the grand flow of the Rhapsody. The two pieces, so contrasted yet linked by a common key, made for an intimate interlude before the concert's closing work: the Quintet in B-minor for Clarinet, two Violins, Viola and Cello, Op. 115.
Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin 1) and Mark Holloway (viola) joined Ms. Keefe, and Mssrs. Wosner and Shifrin for this richly melodic musical feast, the voices trading themes in this quintet with its somewhat unusual structure: it closes not with a vivid presto but with a set of variations - Mr. Shifrin's clarinet in high relief - which end in an unexpectedly thoughtful state. Earlier, it was in the quintet's adagio that the five players created some of the most luminous resonances of the entire evening. I wanted it to go on and on.
- Brahms Trio in A minor for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano, Op. 114 (1891)
- Brahms Sonata in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108 (1886-88)
- Brahms Intermezzo in E-flat major for Piano, Op. 117, No. 1 (1892)
- Brahms Rhapsody in E-flat major for Piano, Op. 119, No. 4 (1893)
- Brahms Quintet in B minor for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello, Op. 115 (1891)