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To be Perfectly Franck

New York
Rose Studio, Lincoln Center
03/31/2016 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478
César Franck: Piano Quintet in F minor (*)

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Paul Huang, Cho-Liang Lin (*) (violin), Matthew Lipman (viola), Sophie Shao (cello), Wu Qian (piano)

C.-L. Lin (© Sophie Zha)

“The basis of Franck’s thematic material... is paralleled linguistically by Jean-Aubry’s (1916) description ‘serene anxiety’.”
John Trevitt, New Grove Dictionary

Although it seems like he did, Haydn did not really invent the symphony, but Mozart did indeed invent (or at the least legitimize) the piano quartet, a form that would reach its pinnacle of emotional development in the works of Brahms and Schumann. At the intimate Rose Studio, members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented this seminal work and paired it with that most passionate of its relatives, the electric quintet of César Franck.

Modern trends indicate that Mozart chamber music should be performed in an intimate space while balance should favor the strings, whether of period or modern vintage. Ideally a fortepiano rather than a pianoforte is desirable, thus minimizing the keyboard contribution. At CMSLC the studio space is pleasantly limited, but, apparently, we all still “love a piano”.

This rendition took us back in time, not to the 1780’s but rather the 1930’s, when artists like Adolf Busch and Pablo Casals emphasized their own brilliant contributions rather than the beauty and power of the whole. This thoroughly modern approach was all the rage for decades, but seemed a bit anachronistic in today’s climate of gestalt sound. As if they had hung out a sign that read “no purists allowed!” the quartet – Wu Qian (piano), Paul Huang (violin), Matthew Lipman (viola), and Sophie Shao (cello) – played expressively but a tad overzealously. I loved it!

No worries about the dominance of the piano in the Franck. If you need any proof of the white hot passion of the quintet, consider that Madame Franck walked out of the work’s premiere knowing instinctively that it had been inspired by the composer’s mistress. Adding the major talent and experience of Cho-Liang Lin as first violin contributed not only a marvelously expressive tone, shockingly obvious literally from the initial note, but leant to this realization the unmistakable gravitas of experience.

Here the extravagant style of the Mozart performance was completely apt, the build-up to the Allegro in the first movement incredibly intense – “serene anxiety” indeed! The unashamed heavy vibrato of the middle movement replicated well Franck’s instruction molto sentiment. This was a superb collaboration not subject to the puritanism of the current academic emphasizers of self-deprecating individual performance. Madame Franck would undoubtedly have walked out.

Fred Kirshnit



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