in: Reviews

May 13, 2012

Sublimity from CMS of Lincoln Center


This afternoon, the Gardner Museum’s Sunday Concert Series presented members of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in concert. The program of music by Rolla and Schumann showcased four of the “Chamber Music Society Two” musicians; the concert offered sublime moments of breathtaking beauty.

The concert opened with Rolla’s Duetto Concertante for violin and viola in E-flat Major, op. 15, No.1, published in 1826. Alessandro Rolla, now remembered more as Paganini’s teacher than as a virtuoso and composer in his own right, performed on both violin and viola and bequeathed to both instruments a wealth of technique now considered standard. This Duetto Concertante demonstrates his virtuosic composing for viola, including the use of fast passagework, octaves and double-stops, and rapid staccato bowing, all within a Romantic musical idiom. Bella Hristova, violin, and Mark Holloway, viola, gave a thrilling reading of this work. Unlike most concert duos for violin and viola, in this piece the viola takes the lead and shines. Holloway owned this piece in performance, from the opening theme of the first movement Allegro – itself a display of viola pyrotechnics, with violin accompaniment. The Adagio ma non troppo and the following (attaca) Tema di Meyerbeer: Allegretto displayed in performance a great sense of playfulness and collaboration between Holloway and Hristova. The concluding Rondo: Alla Polacca (which seemed more a set of variations than a typical rondo movement) underscored the supportive and sensitive accompaniment alternating with dazzling virtuosity on display through this Duetto Concertante. There was only one small hiccup, when some rapid passagework in the viola came across as rushed and muddy; otherwise, this piece was an unexpected treat and left me curious to hear more of Rolla’s compositions.

The second work on the program was Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 3 in G, Op. 110 (1851), with Juho Pohjonen (piano) and Andreas Brantelid,cello joining Bella Hristova,violin in the center of Calderwood Hall. From the opening movement, “Bewegt, doch nicht zu rasch,” through the second movement, “Ziemlich langsam,” the third, “Rasch,” and the concluding “Kräftig, mit Humor,” the ensemble charted changes of tempo, character, and mood with neat phrasing and complementary colors throughout. Hristova and Brantelid were seamlessly attuned to one another and played with great coherence; Pohjonen on piano was, at times, slightly disconnected from the other performers, due to the seating arrangement of the trio or perhaps the acoustics in this atypical hall. Still, it was an exciting performance with moments of truth-filled beauty.

The concluding work on the program was Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 47 (1842). This work brought all four musicians to stage and was the crowning work on this concert; the ensemble shone in this truly elegant performance. Mirrored phrasing of motivic lines between instruments were beautifully balanced. The effusive, joyful “Allegro ma non troppo” gorgeously offset the restrained, hymn-like “Sostenuto assai” opening of the first movement. The “Scherzo: Molto vivace” highlighted the talents of an impressive violist, a stunning violinist, a visibly happy cellist, and a superbly skilled pianist. The “Andante cantabile” was singing bliss with a lovely viola line and a pianist presenting a panoply of colors. The “Finale: Vivace” was a joyous journey ending in thrilling exultation. This performance was a shared experience between musicians, and between musicians and audience.

The only sour note, and one also shared among musicians and between them and the audience, was the excessively long delay between the first and second movements of Rolla’s Duetto Concertante for the late seating of audience members, which somehow took many times longer than usual. The violinist and violist handled this delay gracefully; still, I hope the Gardner Museum finds a better way in future concerts to manage this facet of concert-attendance, one magnified by Calderwood Hall.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

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