Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players in New York

Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players: Roman Rabinovich (piano), Vadim Lando (clarinet), Karl Kramer (horn), Dmitri Berlinsky (violin) Inbal Segev (cello), Good Shepherd Church, New York City. 28.03.2011 (SSM)

Weber: Variations on a theme from “Silvana,” Op. 33
Robert Kahn: Serenade in F Minor, Op. 72
Mozart:  Piano Trio in C Major, K. 548
Haydn:  Divertimento a tré, Hob. IV:5 
Schoenberg Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4

This concert was one of twenty performances in a series at Good Shepherd Church that runs from September to May. In earlier reviews, I praised both the selection of repertory, always programmed to mix familiar names and works with the unfamiliar, as well as the musicians’ high level of technical and interpretive skills. Today’s concert was no exception.

The first work on the program was a set of variations for clarinet and piano by Carl Maria van Weber. Known today mainly for his opera Der Freischütz, Weber was prolific in all musical forms: choral music, songs, concerti, piano sonatas and orchestral suites. He is also considered one of the great composers for the clarinet, writing mostly for the virtuoso Heinrich Bärmann. Because of the prominence of the instrument in works such as the overture to Der Freischütz, it might give the impression that Weber wrote much more music for clarinet than he actually did. Surprisingly, he wrote just six works for solo clarinet.

The work performed here was a set of variations on a theme from Weber’s opera Silvana. The main theme begins with a clarinet playing a phrase that reminded me of the opening notes where it is joined by a bassoon in Mozart’s “Voi Che Sapete” from The Marriage of Figaro. In fact, both works start with the same two notes and both are in the key of B-flat. Vadim Lando played the variations with élan where needed and a quiet sensuousness elsewhere. Roman Rabinovich’s accompaniment was always sensitive to his colleague and vigorous in the piano’s two solo variations.

The next piece was a serenade for piano, clarinet and horn by the composer Robert Kahn (1865-1951). In his youth, Kahn met and befriended Brahms, and it is clear from this serenade that Brahms’s influence on him was substantial. In fact, Kahn outdid Brahms in writing trios for different configurations in an attempt to sell his scores to a broader range of players. For example, this serenade’s score was published in nine different combinations for piano, horn, viola, violin, clarinet and oboe. The work is full of late nineteenth-century angst and was played with passion by the musicians.

The first half of the concert concluded with a delightful performance of Mozart’s Piano Trio in C Major. Written in Mozart’s prime between the thirty-ninth symphony and the three last great symphonies, it is in some ways a throwback to the earlier trio style of Haydn. Both Haydn and Mozart wrote piano trios, but Haydn wrote “Piano trios” and Mozart normally wrote “piano Trios. In the work performed here, however, Mozart ‘s emphasis is clearly on the piano, with the other two instruments nearly relegated to obbligato roles. Rabinovich took the lead in this trio, performing with zest and always keeping an eye on the violinist to assure they were in synch.

After the intermission, Karl Kramer gave a brief introduction to the next work on the program, Haydn’s Divertimento a tré for horn, violin and cello. He stated that the horn part, running through four octaves, was extremely difficult. He then asked the audience to wish him luck and proceeded to flawlessly play this technically challenging piece. At the high end of the instrument’s range it takes embouchure and tight control of air supply to produce the notes, and Kramer handled both aspects with confidence and ease. Since Haydn wrote this work at a relatively early age and never specified which type of horn to play, one could assume he wrote the work for a virtuoso. In his later symphonies he made more realistic demands on the horn players.

The major work on the program was left for last: Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, a programmatic work based on a poem by Richard Dehmel in a transcription by the pianist Edward Steuermann.  Schoenberg wrote the piece for a sextet and later transcribed it for string orchestra, so it was quite an accomplishment for Steuermann to convert a work originally scored for six strings down to three. (But then again, Liszt transcribed Beethoven’s Ninth for solo piano!) Although this transcription doesn’t come near the dark, rich, murky quality of the original, it does have the advantage of allowing one to pick up inner voices not normally heard. The violinist, Dmitri Berlinsky, ravishingly imitated the doleful voices of the two programmatic characters. The final dialogue, played in the violin’s upper range, was piercingly beautiful. Although less music was given to the pianist and cellist, they handled their parts with discernment and empathy.

Given the quality of the playing, it is not surprising that the concert hall should have been filled on a Monday afternoon. The audience returns week after week, confident that successive concerts will equal or excel their predecessors.

Stan Metzger