A Touch of Danger
Fulton Ferry Landing
Franz Schubert: Piano Trios, Opp. 99 & 100
Mark Peskanov (violin)
Ronald Thomas (cello)
Edward Auer (piano)
"If you have a touch of danger,
then you find true beauty."
Although it is now a year-round venue, Bargemusic seems to a veteran New York concert-goer to be essentially a summer celebration. Once the weather turns warmer and the heavens react violently, the safe haven of Olga Bloom’s barge is a welcome experience for listening to some of the finest chamber music intermingled with the sights and sounds of nature. Last evening a magnificent thunderstorm punctuated the enjoyment of the two Herculean Schubert Trios, the Fasolt und Fafnir of the intimate repertoire. While I drunk in the richly appointed floating former living room of this unique artist turned impressario, my colleague interviewed Olga at length about the travails and troubles of owning your own river bound barge. It is perhaps not surprising to learn how costly it is to maintain such a distinctive concert arena, but I was staggered to learn that every two years the entire aquatic auditorium must be lifted out of the water so that its bottom can be scraped at very high New York prices. All of the many obstacles to keeping things on an even keel are surmounted by the sheer force of will of this remarkable woman who, at 80 years, is one of the most youthful people whom I have ever met (as well as one of the most endearing). Herself a concert violinist, she shares her joy of direct musical communication with all the cognoscenti who attend her soirees on a regular basis. I don’t suppose that Olga set out to own the most distinctive concert hall in America, but she certainly didn’t run away when the opportunity presented itself. Although it often looked in the early days that the entire idea might sink, this act of "true beauty" is now a flourishing part of the art scene of this most adventurous of cities.
The trio assembled last evening also added their own touch of danger to their performance. Consciously adopting a sadly out of fashion style, the two fine string players feted us all with very generous doses of vibrato and even some splendid helpings of portamento, conveying the amazingly beautiful lyrical lines of the Schubert in a style not readily available today. Mr. Peskanov is a Russian in the great tradition of Elman and unashamedly weaves his fiddler’s tapestries as interconnected threads rather than as individual and isolated notes. This style works very well for Schubert, although does unfortunately lead to overtonal sloppiness and just a hint of sentimentality. Mr. Thomas has more of a welcome combination of clarity and schmaltz and I found his solo passagework more satisfying. Mr. Auer was superb throughout, playing the intense runs of the first movement of Op. 100 so excitingly that he put me in mind of Robert Schumann’s review of one of Schubert’s piano sonatas wherein he wrote "…one can hear the cold wind of the grave…" in the touch of the performer.
Mr. Thomas quite correctly pointed out at the outset that these two trios are very different in sound and structure. Op. 99 is one of the loveliest pieces in the entire repertoire and was presented as such by this trio who seem to have stepped out of an acoustical recording of the 1910 era. Op. 100 is extremely dark and powerful, its hypnotically repetitive second movement used so movingly by Stanley Kubrick in the film Barry Lyndon, and the trio expertly conveyed the inevitability of sorrow and pain even within the dance rhythms of the quintessentially Viennese Schubert. The flashes of lightning were very evocative visual sforzandos and made me realize that even the greatest lighting and set designs are the work of mere infants when compared to the wild beauty of the natural world itself. The third movement, a favorite of all card carrying Mahlerites, had just the right effervescence mixed with the sadness of the piano player who never gets to dance with the beautiful ladies. Schubert is always painful when played correctly, and these three men really do "get it".
Summer in the city forces concert life down to a crawl, with only a few interesting festivals to tide one over until the musicians all come home in the fall, but Olga keeps going strong all year now, so we are never too deprived of our acoustical and emotional life blood. If you ever have the opportunity to visit New York, Olga’s barge is definitely a "must hear".
Frederick L. Kirshnit