Even a casual perusal of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s website reveals its twofold purpose: commitment to artistic excellence and expanding the chamber music repertoire. Friday’s (Nov. 8) concert of Schumann, Brahms and Dvorak played by members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for the La Jolla Music Society amply fulfilled the first half of its artistic credo.
What was missing in this visitation by these accomplished New York City performers was any hint of that exciting music that will “expand the chamber music repertoire.” But given the ensemble’s conservative programming, it was refreshing to hear Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio No. 2 in F Major, Op. 80. Unlike the two two piano trios of Franz Schubert, Schumann’s three piano trios are infrequently played, and the Lincoln Center performers made a compelling case for this structurally complex, broad-shouldered work.
From the outset, pianist Juho Pohjonen, violinist Arnaud Sussmann and cellist David Finckel gave the first movement a hard-driving, explosive account that aptly portrayed the composer’s manic frame of mind. Pohjonen, a young Finnish pianist whom I had not encountered before, tastefully highlighted those typically rich sonorities from the instrument’s middle range that Schumann loved, and nimbly negotiated all technical challenges. Since Schumann was a pianist, he tended to give his instrument the lead as new themes announce themselves in the movement, and Pohjonen led in a gracious, collegial fashion.
The quieter second movement, a Mendelssohn-like “song without words,” gave violinist Sussmann the opportunity to display his gorgeous cantabile solo line, supple in shape yet rich in color: truly a magical moment. If the elliptical themes and unexpected turns of the labyrinthine third movement challenged this trio, no hint of strain was manifested in their uncommonly well-balanced playing. Pohjonen and his colleagues took Schumann’s marking of the finale “not too quickly” with a grain of salt and turned it into an exuberant, climactic conclusion of a rewarding musical journey.[php snippet=1]
For Johannes Brahms’ familiar (and beloved by La Jolla SummerFest patrons) F Minor Piano Quintet, Op. 80, the ensemble added violinist Kristen Lee and violist Paul Neubauer. A chamber work with symphonic aspirations, the F Minor Piano Quintet boasts an ironclad structural architecture that the poetic Schumann never attained—or aspired to. While Brahms’ sweeping themes exude a rhapsodic air, they are welded together with fierce logic, and the Lincoln Center team delivered both qualities in spades.
The piano quintet brought out splendid thematic leadership from first violinist Sussmann, and Pohjonen delivered the muscular piano part with complete authority. The finale of the Brahms gave cellist Finckel an opportunity to unfold Brahms’ broad, noble theme that propels that exciting movement. For many seasons, Finckel served as the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, and his finesse as both soloist and ensemble player is nonpareil.
I would rank this performance of the Brahms as more visceral than refined, but given the nature of the piece, that is a completely acceptable aesthetic choice. Only in the hectic Scherzo did the otherwise assured ensemble of these players come into question.
Antonin Dvorak’s “Terzetto in C Major for Two Violins and Viola,” Op. 74, opened this program on a tedious note. Written for two of the composer’s musical friends and the composer himself—he was an accomplished violist—the “Terzetto in C Major” belongs to that category of Gebrauchsmusik that is eminently satisfying to performers, but bland to listeners. Dvorak’s facility, and a certain lack of stringent self-criticism, allowed him to indulge in far too much mellifluous note-spinning.