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Schoenberg Illuminated by Youth


Miriam Fried (file photo)
Miriam Fried (file photo)

In the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum presentation of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, revered violinist and teacher Miriam Fried, with instrument in hand, led the company of young players in Mozart and Brahms. But the real surprise had to be the Schoenberg, where youth took to his String Trio as though it might very well have been written for them.

The magnificence found everywhere in Mozart’s master chamber work, Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K.478, was not always to be realized in Sunday afternoon’s performance. The opening Allegro overall suffered largely from an overly bright Steinway with the lid entirely removed. And with the violist and cellist facing opposite this reviewer, balance became more often questionable than not.

The opening theme, first stated with clearly articulated detached strokes of the bow, returned in the recapitulation less so. And so it seemed throughout much of the Mozart that a congealing force was not to be always achieved at the same levels.

Ensemble flair cropped up here and there through the second movement, which became more focused. The descending scalar passages Mozart fairly evenly distributes among the quartet were noticeably taken on in different fashion by each player. The delicate main theme received good attention, more sculpted by the piano, more expressive from the strings.

Their Rondo spoke clearly and cohesively in Calderwood Hall, and there was spring to the beat as much as there was spring in the air. If the expectation had been to find any truly identifiable personality in this Mozart, some disappointment would have to be registered. Violist Shira Majoni, who is currently studying with Kim Kashkashian at NEC; cellist Haran Meltzer, who continues his studies with Zvi Plesser; and pianist Kwan Yi, a graduate of Curtis and Julliard and faculty member, Radford University in Virginia; shared the stage with Fried.

Once the Arnold Schoenberg’s (1940) String Trio, Op. 45 got underway, there would be no looking back. Violinist InMo Yang, still an undergraduate student at NEC, violist Dana Kelley, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, and Meltzer gave every indication they were up to this complex, snarly, guttural, lamenting, eerie, terrifying, reflective work of the so-called atonalist, Schoenberg. Dazzling tuning these three young players projected in the 12-tone environment equaled their unequivocal dedication to a piece that we (well, at least some of us anyway) could have heard a second time today! Light was shining on Schoenberg, no rare feat for the German Expressionist.

Two of the players read from score necessitating IPads for easy page turning. Conquering the huge dynamic swings, multiple bowing techniques, and a near a-rhythmic continuum, though, would have to take second seat to their extraordinarily dedicated musical discourse lasting for over 20 minutes.

The monstrous crescendo into Part 3 riveted, then there followed a dramatic, sudden calm, just one stroke among many these three young and talented musicians showered upon us.

The finisher was String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111 by Johannes Brahms. Composed only 66 years earlier than the Schoenberg Trio, the two works could not be further apart in the musical world.

Yang, Fried, Majoni, Kelley, and Meltzer propelled the opening, Allegro non troppo, ma con brio, into a completely enveloping exuberance from the very first undulating notes. The two violas offered rich timbres so tuned to Brahms. In the Adagio’s quieter sides, heartfelt playing further welcomed the listener into this Brahmsian, somewhat formalized, excursion. Mood-following required some detective.

The atmospheric, or aura if you prefer, in Brahms, or maybe even temperament, escaped this reviewer. Technically proficient, yes, they all were; and clearly on the verge of making something important happen.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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