An intimate evening of Schubert, among friends, from Chamber Music Society

Sat Jan 20, 2018 at 1:23 pm
"A Schubert Evening in a VIenna Salon" by Julius Schmid.

“A Schubert Evening in a Vienna Salon” by Julius Schmid.

In Vienna, the Theater an der Wien, completed in 1801, has a capacity of approximately 1,200 patrons for a symphony concert. In Prague, the Spalnesky sal in the Prague Castle has held a little under 800 people for concerts since its completion in 1606.

The measure of seating capacity is not trivial in classical music. So much of the music heard was either conceived with the size of the ensemble and the venue in mind, or else based on the scales of the 18th and 19th century, even though so much is different in the 21st century.

Scale was the real, though unintended, theme of Friday night’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s concert in Alice Tully Hall (which was close to it’s capacity of 1,086). The music was almost entirely from Schubert, with some lieder, the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 162, and the Op. 100 Piano Trio. The exception was one song from Isak Albert Berg, a now-forgotten Swedish composer with whom Schubert was friends.

What impressed about this concert, other than the typically fine playing, was how convivial and intimate it was; Alice Tully Hall was effectively collapsed into a small room filled with a tight-knit group of people who came just to enjoy music together. That was true to history.

The musicians—violinists Arnaud Sussman and Sean Lee, cellist David Finckel, baritone Nikolay Brchev, and pianists Gilbert Kalish and Juho Pohjonen—wore tuxedoes. But the playing established an unobtrusive and enveloping warmth that collapsed the formal distance between musicians and audiences.

This experience developed immediately, in great part due to the simple selection of the Op. 162 sonata. This is intimate music, sitting right in the sweet spot of the public-private balance in expression that is so special to Schubert.

Sussmann and Pohjonen played this with relaxed assurance,  the performance glowing with an amber light. The duo brought great charm to their musical conversation, and had a lovely way with Schubert’s long lines. There was a lack of certainty about the rhythm of the secondary theme in the first movement, but amongst friends this was inconsequential.

Pohjonen is carving out a presence on the New York classical scene, and his touch was something special–delicate and precise and through that carrying musical and expressive weight with each attack and change in dynamics.

His sound and musicality were in line with that of Kalish, who was concise and full of sparkling energy accompanying Borchev in five Schubert songs—“Der Musensohn,” “Ganymed,” “An Schwager Kronos,” “Wandrers Nachtlied,” and “Willkommen und Abschied.”

These were a display for both the singer and the composer. Borchev has a lovely, high baritone, warm, soft, and rounded. His vocal foundation is strong and allowed him to modulate colors and dynamics with smooth expertise. His contrasts between the three middle songs of the set were stimulating, from the vivaciousness of “Ganymed” to the undisciplined youthfulness of “Kronos,” and then the tenderness of the “Nachtlied.”

Pohjonen accompanied him in Berg’s “Se solen sjunker” to open the second half. The composer’s main mark in history is that he was Jenny Lind’s voice teacher, but this inclusion showed he could really write a song. Or at least arrange one; the music has a strong folk song foundation, while Berg’s harmonies were gorgeous.

Lee, Finckel, and Pohjonen finished with the great Op. 100 Trio. Here, the salon touch seemed for a while a misstep; tempos struck one as slightly off, with the Allegro too slow and the Andante too fast.

But then one was assured this was part of the design, and that the design was wise. The tempos kept the music’s footprint light, the parts intimately interactive, and by the end one was won over. Schubert was once again among friends.

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presents new music in the Rose Studio 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., January 25. chambermusicsociety.org


One Response to “An intimate evening of Schubert, among friends, from Chamber Music Society”

  1. Posted Jan 20, 2018 at 11:54 pm by Vic Levy

    Thanks for this lovely review. It makes me wish I could have attended as well.

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