Above: violinist Aaron Boyd
~ Author: Oberon
Sunday April 8th, 2018 - A change of players and programming at Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center this evening had been announced in advance. Much as I had been looking forward to the 40th anniversary concert of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, the revised offering was very much to my liking, being played by some of my favorite musicians, and including a Brahms piece that - in its orchestrated setting - inspired one of George Balanchine's most beloved ballets.
The Society's co-Artistic Director Wu Han greeted us in her customary upbeat way; she spoke of Mr. Kalichstein's injury, and of calling "everyone we know" in an effort to gather replacement artists and assemble a program for today whilst being on the eve of a CMS tour. Luckily, artists of the likes of Tara Helen O'Connor, Aaron Boyd, and Paul Neubauer were able to appear, along with David Finckel, so the chosen repertoire was in good hands.
Ernő Dohnányi's Serenade in C-major for Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 10, dates from 1902; it was brand new to me, and to my companion. Set in five movements, it's a serenade in the manner of Brahms, with touches of Hungarian folkishness, and intriguing harmonies.
Echoes of Hungary abound, right from the opening 'march'. Rhythmic vitality is key to this work, and even the slower portions have a subtle sense of restlessness. In the second movement, Romanza, gentle plucking from violin and cello accompanies Mr. Neubauer's sinuous melody that drifts into the low range. Then it is the viola's turn to set a rocking rhythm as Mr. Boyd's violin takes the lead.
In the Scherzo, the skittering violin and viola give way to a melodious passage before heading to a fun ending. The doleful Andante calls for a violin solo, affectingly played by Mr. Boyd. The music takes on a cinematic feeling; a driven rhythm from the viola relents to a beautiful cello theme, warmly played by Mr. Finckel. Tremolo motifs maintain a feel of contained energy under the prevailing lyricism.
The Rondo/Finale is propulsive, with a rocking feeling and a dance for the violin. The march-like theme of the first movement reappears, its energy winding down until the serenade ends with an exclamation point of a chord.
Above: Tara Helen O'Connor
Beethoven's Serenade in D-major for Flute, Violin, and Viola, Op. 25 (1801) gets off to a perky start, with Tara Helen O'Connor's flute piping a Reveille. A gracious Menuetto follows, with a more animated central section; the return to the original mood brings elaborate fiorature for the flautist. Following an energetic Allegro molto, we reach the heart of the serenade: the Andante con variazoni where Ms. O'Connor's tone was at its most lambent. Her swift, charming variation is followed by variations for Mr. Boyd's violin and Mr. Neubauer's viola, both filled with stylishly turned phrases. All three players here showed off a gift for subtlety.
A sprightly and rather short Allegro scherzando is followed by a lovely, courtly Adagio before the music bubbles up in an Allegro vivace of propulsive energy, leading to a speedy finale. The poised elegance of Ms. O'Connor's playing and her surety in the swiftest roulades made a vivid impression, the audience hailing her and her expert colleagues with affectionate applause.
Following the interval, Wu Han (above) was at the Steinway for a glowing performance of the Brahms Quartet No. 1 in G-minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 25 (written 1860-61), joined by Mssrs. Boyd, Neubauer, and Finckel. This quartet has become beloved by balletomanes in Arnold Schoenberg's orchestration, used by George Balanchine for his romantic ballet entitled Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. Whilst listening this evening, the Balanchine choreography danced in my head.
Wu Han opened the work with gorgeous playing; from start to finish, she brought a lovely mix of passion and delicacy to the music. Brahms provides a veritable font of melody, the strings meshing in evocative textures, everything coloured by an atmosphere of romance...until the finale. Here, the pianist and her trio of string virtuosos played the concluding Rondo alla Zingarese at the speed of light - no dancer could have kept pace with them - and at the rousing conclusion, the bedazzled crowd swept to their feet and cheered the players thru a double curtain call. All seemed right with the world.
Tonight's Artists: Wu Han, piano; Aaron Boyd, violin; Paul Neubauer, viola; David Finckel, cello; Tara Helen O’Connor, flute