Above, music-makers de luxe: Arnaud Sussmann, David Finckel, and Paul Neubauer
~ Author: Oberon
Tuesday November 14th, 2017 - String trios by Beethoven and Mozart book-ended a work by one of my favorite contemporary composers, Krzysztof Penderecki, tonight at Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. As played by three master-musicians - violinist Arnaud Sussmann, violist Paul Neubauer, and cellist David Finckel - the program surpassed expectations in every way. And my expectations for this evening were very high indeed.
The 1st Trio of Beethoven's Opus 9 opens on a grand note with a unison passage which gives way to a three-way conversation between the instruments. Harmonies are rich and varied, and rhythmic exchanges are deftly handled. Paul Neubauer's viola assumes a rocking motif, while the violin and cello sing back and forth. There's much subtlety in the writing here, and the players made the most of it.
The Adagio brings a feeling of consolation, a balm to the world-weariness that thoughtful people worldwide are experiencing in these troubled times. Playing with an Olde World richness of tone, our three musicians brought out the poignant modulations which abound in the score. Mr. Sussmann's violin caresses a tender melody; a deep-running rhythm from Mr. Finckel is overlain by expressive passages for the higher voices. The delicacy of Mr. Sussmann's playing here touched the soul.
An excellent contrast came then in the light-hearted Scherzo, where touches of wit from each player raised our spirits. For all that, a slight edge could be felt in the propulsiveness, hints that shadows could encroach - if we let them.
But we're swept along to the finale, which starts with a skittering energy. Why did I think of Mendelssohn here? He hadn't even been born yet. But for a split second a vision of Oberon's forest flickered in my mind. While taken at a very fast tempo - Arnaud Sussmann's sparkling virtuosity might have drawn him a speeding ticket - the players maintained elegance at every turn of phrase. The rush to the finish line is occasionally diverted by little lulls in which tiny hints of darkness can be perceived. But these are swept away in a final exhilaration.
Krzysztof Penderecki's dramatic String Trio was composed in 1990-1991. The composer's groundbreaking works from the 1960s to the mid-1970s had been followed by his return to traditional melodic and harmonic writing in his "Romantic" period, which lasted until roughly 1985. His writing in the years that followed - including the String Trio - combine elements of both styles.
Strident, slashing chords open this work, then Paul Neubauer's viola commences a lament of unsettling beauty. More violent chords, and then David Finckel's cello comes in with a solo passage that is curiously both swift and pensive. Another intrusion leads us to a high-energy violin solo from Mr. Sussmann.
A very long silence ensues, then the violin and viola murmur to one another: this is very subtly done. A passage of stuttering and plucking is followed by low-range playing from viola and cello. A viola solo leads to an eerie place, from which escape is provided by tapping bows on strings.
More sheer mastery from Mr. Neubauer, soon joined by Mr. Sussmann; Mr. Finckel's cello goes high. The cellist then takes on a virtuoso passage with almost violent slashing and plucking. A great turbulence rises, all three players engaged in unison pizzicati; creepy shakes and a final burst of virtuosic runs as the trio reaches its savage end.
Following the interval, Mozart's Divertimento in E-flat major for Violin, Viola, and Cello, K. 563 was given a thrilling performance. The composer's longest chamber work, this Divertimento was written a decade before the Beethoven trio that had opened the evening. Its six movements include two minuets, and an Adagio that's straight out of heaven.
There was much to savour in the opening Allegro, which brings us music of varied moods and colours. It's always so engrossing to watch the interplay of the musicians at these Chamber Music Society concerts, and this 40-minute work was every bit as pleasing to watch as to hear.
The Adagio is the heart of the matter: music that creates a whole world onto itself. It begins gorgeously, with deep tone from David Finckel's cello. Mr. Sussmann's violin covers a huge range, up to exquisite heights, while a rising viola theme - with gentle intrusions from violin and cello - glows in Mr. Neubauer's rich playing.
Following the first Minuet comes the Andante where, near the end, the Neubauer viola again has a song to sing which is delivered with heartfelt expressiveness. During this melody, Mssrs. Sussmann and Finckel are adding delicious furbelows. The second Minuet has a waltz-like lilt, and again the viola takes a melodic lead to charm us. As this Minuet progressed, Mr. Sussmann's graceful playing was a particular pleasure.
During the Divertimento's final Allegro, to which the deep tones of Mr. Finckel's cello gave impetus, swirls of notes at high speed periodically give way to more lyrical interludes - and it was in one of these sweet little lulls that Mr. Sussmann, who had been playing amazing scale passages throughout, launched a remarkable running upward scale which tapered magically to pianissimo on the highest notes: a breathtaking moment.
Mozart was not to experience old age, but in this Divertimento he gives us an idea of the music he might have produced had he been granted more years on this Earth.
The audience greeted the musicians with fervent applause and cheers, calling them back for a second bow. People around us seemed to be hoping for an encore, but really: what could have followed this divine Mozart?
- Beethoven Trio in G major for Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 9, No. 1 (1797-98)
- Penderecki Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello (1990-91)
- Mozart Divertimento in E-flat major for Violin, Viola, and Cello, K. 563 (1788)