By Lee Hartman
Professional chamber music is dominated by touring string quartets. While the combination is certainly exciting and the wealth of repertoire is vast, it was simply a joy to hear the timbres of immaculately played wind instruments Saturday evening at the Folly Theater. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was joined by pianist Jeremy Denk for works by Max Bruch, Johannes Brahms, and Ernő Dohnányi for the Friends of Chamber Music. Part of the CMS mission is to create a democracy of instruments in which no instrument’s importance is placed above that of another. For this brilliantly programmed and performed concert, there was a homogeny of talent that served these fine pieces well.
Selections from Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, Op. 83 were performed deftly by Jose Franch-Ballester, Paul Newbauer, and Jeremy Denk, respectively. At the composer’s suggestion, each miniature was treated as a separate entity. The Allegro agitato demonstrated true ensemble playing as each performer commanded his part but was also sensitive and reactive to his partners’ efforts. The “Nachtgesang” was the highlight of the set. Denk showcased a chiaroscuro palette of articulations; each choice was thoughtful and fit the gentle ebb and flow of the lullaby perfectly. Franch-Ballester’s soft dynamic control was wondrous and Newbauer, in all my times hearing him, continues to wow with his intonation. “Rumanian Melody” exemplified Bruch’s co-opting of folk sounds (also present in his Scottish Fantasy and Kol Nidrei). The Roma tune was treated to a series of reiterations that Denk offered commentary on by varying the accompaniment. The unison playing between Franch-Ballester and Newbauer was spot on. Coming after two glorious movements of intimate playing, the Finale, though expertly played, came off as somewhat trivial in its jovial affect.
John Zirbel on horn and Erin Keefe on violin joined Denk for the Brahms Horn Trio in E-flat major, Op. 40. Zirbel was a revelation. No notes were fracked, his tone was in complete control, and his musicianship elevated the performance to stratospheric heights. Denk occasionally whiffed a chord in the closing movement but they were few and far between. Keefe had some extraordinary moments but her bow control while playing so many levels below pianississimo was jaw-dropping; there was not one hint of shakiness. Occasionally though her fortissimo playing was a bit shrill, most noticeably in the Allegro con brio.
Nicholas Canellakis on cello joined the aforementioned artists for Dohnányi’s Sextet. Having heard the musicians of Summerfest tackle the Sextet this past summer, and still recalling that performance fondly, I was elated to hear elements of the work that I missed in the first hearing. Where Summerfest reading had more menace, CMS capitalized on the more humorous aspects of the work especially in the cheeky waltz sections of the Finale. The strings were stunning in their chorale moments that opened the Intermezzo. Most importantly however was how every combination that Dohnányi utilized was played with utmost sensitivity and passion from these top-notch performers.
Friends of Chamber Music
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with Jeremy Denk
Saturday, October 13, 2012
300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit http://www.chambermusic.org
Top Photo: John Zirbel
Read more at: KCMetropolis.org