Rarities in the spotlight at Chamber Music Society program

Fri Jan 15, 2016 at 12:56 pm
Frank Bridge's "Lament" for two violas was performed at Thursday night's concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Frank Bridge’s “Lament” for two violas was performed at Thursday night’s concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

In Thursday night’s hour-long offering by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the prize for “should be heard more often” goes to Krzysztof Penderecki’s Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello (1990-91). Originally composed for the Deutsches Streichtrio, it was brought to feverish life in the Rose Studio by Danbi Um (violin), Richard O’Neill (viola), and Mihai Marica (cello).

Slashing chords make a dramatic opening, leading to expressive solos by each of the instruments in turn. Though there are moments of repose, the work’s thirteen minutes are mostly nervous, tense, and agitated, with ferocious triplet motifs that appear and evaporate. In the final Vivace, fugal entrances combine with accelerating rhythmic patterns. A striking, lengthy unison passage for all three players was beautifully rendered before some of the opening savagery returned.

Paul Neubauer joined O’Neill for Frank Bridge’s Lament for two violas (1912), an ideal respite, its ripe phrases soothing the ear. Bridge composed the Lament for himself and viola virtuoso Lionel Tertis for a 1912 concert at London’s Wigmore Hall that included works by Cyril Scott, Benjamin Dale, and York Bowen. Interestingly, the only reason we can experience this lovely work today is through the research of British musicologist Paul Hindmarsh, who chanced upon it in the late 1970s at the Royal College of Music. This performance was the first by the Chamber Music Society.

In eight minutes, Bridge constructs a warmly appealing dialogue, with a haunting central waltz. Additionally, through canny use of double-stops, at times the composer gives the illusion of a trio or quartet. The duo here helped maintain the mirage with excellent balance, long stretches of gravelly utterances, and intonation that produced pleasing overtones. Like the Penderecki, Bridge’s eloquent essay would be welcome in the concert hall more often. 

In remarks before Mendelssohn’s Quintet in B-flat major for Two Violins, Two Violas, and Cello, Op. 87 (1845), Neubauer noted that the group would perform the composer’s original version, rather than the one edited by Julius Rietz, with which audiences might be more familiar. In the original  version most of the pizzicatos in the second movement were removed, and substantial changes were restored in the finale.

Violinist Sean Lee added his prowess to the four musicians already mentioned, and all made smart work of Mendelssohn’s exuberant creation. For many, the composer’s brilliance is best experienced in his chamber music, and this reading bore out that belief. Launched by bristling tremolos, the rollicking interplay in the Allegro vivace was joyous and high-spirited, with acute attention to dynamic contrasts. In the following Allegretto scherzando, Mahler’s ländler came to mind, with the players giving Mendelssohn’s winsome waltz a slightly demure cast. Given Neubauer’s introduction, the final pizzicato measures—brief and surprising—provoked a bit of a smile. The composer was right to save the “special effect” for the closing bars.

The third-movement Adagio e lento mirrored the Bridge lament, sensitively played to the point that it became the work’s heart. That might have been enough, except for the finale, scampering off to frolic. If the balance seemed to slightly favor the two violins (whether due to the players or the composer), the attention to detail was plentiful, and between the rhythmic punch and skittering runs, the group’s exuberance proved entrancing.

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