A distinguished cast from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center visited Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium in Pasadena Sunday afternoon, Nov. 6, with a program titled “Manifest Legacy: Beethoven and Brahms.” Artistic directors David Finckel and Wu Han combined Beethoven’s Trio in D Major for violin, viola, and cello, Op. 9, No. 2 (1778) with two Brahms Quintets, No. 1 in F Major for two violins, two violas, and cello, Op. 88 (1882) and the famous Quintet in F minor for piano, two violins, viola, and cello, Op. 34 (1864).
Native Los Angeles violinist, Arnold Steinhardt, retired principal and founding member of the famed Guarneri Quartet, was joined by violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Fred Sherry for the opening Trio. The ensemble was tentative with the first movement Allegretto, but the Andante managed to find sure footing, largely on the efforts of Sherry’s cello. The Menuetto was delightful, but lacked the energy I expected, perhaps in part attributable to the acoustics of the venue. Beckman Auditorium was dedicated in 1964, and is used as a multipurpose hall for music, lectures, and theater. The circular hall with conical ceiling and carpeted floor created a very “dry” sound with only modest reverberation that dampened all but the liveliest passages. The duos of Steinhardt and Neubauer in the Rondo were the high point of the Trio, and generally speaking, Neubauer’s contributions shined throughout the performance.
The Brahms Quintet No. 1 featured young violinist Jessica Lee, who quite frankly stole the show. She was animated and dramatic in her style, and her tone was large and perfectly suited for Brahms’ melodies. Lee was joined by Steinhardt, Neubauer, and violist Beth Guterman who blended beautifully together. Sherry again grounded the ensemble, and when his role was melodic, his lyric lines engaged my attention. The group was well balanced in the rich harmonies and they brought to life Brahms’ overt Romanticism. The soft passages were perfectly controlled and then contrasted with emphatic climaxes. Brahms favored the viola voice, and Neubauer and Guterman played their parts beautifully. Lee was brilliant in the Allegro non troppo, and gave it her unmistakable brio. The sustained pianissimo ending of the second movement was very delicate and effective.
After the intermission, we heard Brahms’ Quintet in F minor, Op. 34. His arrangement left Lee, now the second violin, occasionally at rest, but every player had ample opportunity to claim the foreground in solo and in various instrumental combinations. The music was the most intensely emotive of the evening, making it clear why Brahms’ only piano quintet is his definitive work in the format. Pianist Inon Barnatan was especially fun to hear and watch. He was powerful in his role, and he singularly added a fullness that effectively accentuated the full sound of the ensemble, but his opening phrases were overtly strong and occasionally obscured the strings. The Scherzo was somewhat restrained, although the grand Finale was the most impressive ensemble moment of the night. The sound of thunder leaked into the hall from an autumn storm outside; it curiously seemed to heighten the drama.
Bravo to our distinguished visitors, especially Jessica Lee! We undoubtedly will hear more from her in the future.
~Theodore Bell/Culture Spot LA
Future Coleman Chamber Music Concerts include: Pacific Trio (Jan. 22), Takács String Quartet (Feb. 26), Jupiter String Quartet (Mar. 11), and Pavel Haas String Quartet.