A Duo, a Trio, a Quartet, and a Lute Recital: Diversity Rules

10/12/2015

United StatesUnited States Various Composers, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society: Soloists, American Philosophical Society, Perelman Theater, Philadelphia. 1-4.12.2015. (BJ)

Beethoven: Soovin Kim (violin) and Ieva Jokubaviciute (piano); Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1.12.2015

Beethoven: Violin Sonatas: E-flat major, Op. 12 No. 3; A major, Op. 30 No. 1; G major, Op. 96

* * * * *

Beethoven, Ludwig, and Schubert: Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Choong-Jin Chang (viola), Harold Robinson (double bass); Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 2.12.2015

Beethoven: Ten Variations of Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu, Op. 121a
David Ludwig: Piano Trio No. 2, Titania’s Dream (Philadelphia premiere)
Schubert: Quintet in A major, D. 667, Die Forelle 

* * * * * 

The Elizabethan Lute: English Music of the Golden Age: Hopkinson Smith (lute); Benjamin Franklin Hall, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 4.12.2015

Dowland: A Dream; Mrs White’s Nothing; Prelude Fantasy; Lady Clifton’s Spirit; Mignarda; Lady Hunsdon’s Allmand
Holborne: A Pavan; It fell on a holy eve; My Selfe; Last Will and Testament; The Fairy Round; Mad Dog
John Johnson: Johnson’s Jewell; Carman’s Whistle
Gregorio Huwet: Fantasy
Byrd: Pavana Bray

* * * * *

Mozart, Dutilleux, and Schoenberg: Dover Quartet, Steven Tenenbom (viola), Peter Wiley (cello); Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 2.12.2015 (BJ)

Mozart: String Quartet in B-flat major, K. 589
Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit
Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4

The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, enterprising as ever, began and ended its week with more or less traditional instrumental forces—a violin and piano recital and a string quartet—but served the cause of variety, in between, with a piano trio that was reinforced to play Schubert’s decidedly un-traditional “Trout” Quintet, and with that welcome rarity, a lute recital. Even the string quartet program that closed out six days of stimulating music-making branched out with two additional players for Schoenberg’s sui generis chamber-musical tone poem, Verklärte Nacht.

The biggest challenge, I suppose, for someone that presumes to write about music is how to give the reader any clear idea of how it sounds, as distinct from how it goes. If I say that Soovin Kim’s phrasing covers the gamut from the sensitive to the forthright, my meaning is fairly clear. But if I want to evoke his range of tone, the choice of appropriate English words is narrower. Certainly I can say that he has a gift for sweetness of sound, but the most appropriate word I can think of to describe the sound he makes in his forthright moments is not English at all: it is “saftig,” and I hope its implications—“juicy, potent succulent, and lush,” according to one lexicographical source—does not create too vulgar an impression.

Well, Kim’s playing in his program of Beethoven sonatas seemed to me to cover all necessary bases, whether of expressive phrasing or of sonority that was by turns delicate and assertive, but never for a moment vulgar. Some years ago, he gave a performance with Jeremy Denk of the “Kreutzer” Sonata that was one of the finest I have ever heard. This time, sensitively partnered by Ieva Jokubaviciute, he offered a choice of sonatas that focused rather on the more inward side of his musical character, and played it with both depth of emotion and simplicity of style, together with his familiar technical command. The A-major Sonata, Op. 30 No. 1, possesses in its central Adagio molto espressivo what is surely one of the most beautiful slow movements Beethoven—in contemplative mood—ever wrote. It was the standout moment in the recital, but Kim and Jokubaviciute showed themselves as fully equal to Beethoven’s more boisterous passages as to the silken elegance pervading that movement, and much of the G-major Sonata that was the composer’s last essay in the genre.

It was a particularly appropriate pleasure the following evening to welcome a visit by the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, for violinist Jaime Laredo was one of Soovin Kim’s teachers at the Curtis Institute. The group, with pianist Joseph Kalichstein and cellist Sharon Robinson, has been together with no changes of personnel for 38 years. Along with a technical standard that remains formidable, the KRL Trio shows no trace of the deadening over-familiarity with the repertoire that has affected the playing of some very fine ensembles in the past, such as the fabled Amadeus Quartet in its later years.

After the highly serious Beethoven that Kim had given us on Tuesday, the first title on Wednesday’s program might have promised something much more light-hearted, for Wenzel Müller’s little ditty Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu is just an entertaining, folk-song-like trifle. But Beethoven, who had a thoroughly active sense of humor, fools us all in this particular trio by framing his ten variations between a lengthy G-minor introduction and a lighter but perfectly serious coda in the major mode. The KLRs beautifully caught both the portentous mystery of the introduction and the totally un-portentous lightness of what follows.

The middle of the program brought the Philadelphia premiere of Piano Trio No. 2, Titania’s Dream, by David Ludwig (b. 1974), a member of the Curtis faculty and grandson of Rudolf Serkin. Composed as incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it is a pleasantly fluent and unpretentious piece that hardly aspires to the magic of its dramatic inspiration, but captures a variety of moods in relatively traditional tonal language. I should like to hear some of the composer’s more ambitious work before venturing a clear estimate of just how talented he is.

No such reservation, I hardly need to say, applies to the genius who wrote the “Trout” Quintet. Joined after intermission by Choong-Jin Chang and Harold Robinson, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal violist and cellist, the KLR trio figured in a suitably lively performance of that wonderfully varied work.

US-born but long resident in Basel, Hopkinson Smith, who was to celebrate his 69th birthday the following week, gave a lute recital concentrated on English composers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, with the addition of one impressive Fantasy by the Antwerp composer Gregorio Huwet. The great John Dowland was amply represented, and there was one lovely piece by William Byrd, but interspersed contributions from Anthony Holborne and John Johnson served (even in the absence of anything by Thomas Campion) to demonstrate quite how well populated the musical scene in England was around 1600. An elegant and genial figure on the platform and a master of his instrument, Smith not only achieved prodigies of prestidigitation in the faster pieces, but in the slower ones, his superfine delicacy of touch evoked just the kind of magic that so much of Shakespeare’s work shared with his contemporaries in that same golden age of English music, drama, and literature.

The spell Smith cast over his listeners assured him of an enthusiastic ovation. This he rewarded with an additional piece by Anthony Holborne, aptly choosing that composer’s Fare thee well.

On Sunday afternoon, it was back to the more familiar string quartet format. Somehow PCMS keeps managing to find quartets—many of them youthful—of extraordinary technical and artistic quality. The Dover Quartet, appointed the Curtis Institute’s first ever Quartet-in-Residence in 2013, is clearly one of best in this remarkable crop. Violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee, violist Milena Pajaro van de Stadt, and cellist Camden Shaw are not only gifted individually—Link’s accuracy of intonation right up to the top of the violin’s range, to take just one example, is as impeccable as his tone is beguiling—but they combine to make an ensemble sound of astonishing richness and warmth. And in Dutilleux’s enchanting Ainsi la nuit they realized the composer’s resourceful yet never eccentric interweaving of bowed and pizzicato notes as if it were child’s play, which it most emphatically isn’t.

The opening Mozart had already convinced me that these players constitute an ensemble of exceptional gifts, though I should have been even more pleased if they had not omitted some of the repeats Mozart asked for. If a composer writes a set of three quartets, directing in two of them that the minuet should be repeated after the trio section, but in one of the three specifying a repetition of the minuet without its internal repeats, then surely performers ought to take it, ex hypothesi, that the da capos in the other two works should be done complete.

Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, in its original string sextet version, concluded this very serious program, Steven Tenenbom and Peter Wiley being the violist and cellist who joined the Dovers to play it. The performance, again, combined superb technical assurance with suitably warm expression (this indeed may be called “saftig” music), the two cellists providing a rock-solid base for the ensemble, the violists contributing some rich solo work, and the two violinists realizing their well-contrasted parts to fine effect.

Bernard Jacobson

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