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Barging Into Summer

New York
Brooklyn Fulton Ferry Landing
06/21/2001 -  
Johannes Brahms: Intermezzi from Opp. 76 & 118
Paul Hindemith: String Trio, Op. 34
Franz Schubert: "Trout" Quintet

Jeremy Menuhin (piano)
Mark Peskanov (violin)
Toby Hoffman (viola)
Clive Greensmith (cello)
John Feeney (double bass)

June 21st is the first full day of summer and what better way for a New York classical music fan to end it than a trip to that most pleasant concert venue in the five boroughs: Olga Bloom’s chamber music barge on the East River. Bargemusic is a yearlong phenomenon now, but we veterans who remember its days as only a hot weather alternative still wax nostalgic about its unique sense of comfort, hospitality and fellow-feeling centering around the greatest works of music in Western civilization. No vacation season would be complete without a relaxed evening in this cozy and yet challenging atmosphere. Tonight’s bill of fare was particularly satisfying as the three performances were all of the highest quality.

There is no “backstage” on the barge, the performers rather gathering stage right as if they were in the wings. It was thus easy to spot Jeremy Menuhin amongst the crowd. He is the spitting image of his father and plays with a concentration also reminiscent of the great Yehudi. Intelligently combining pieces from two different sets of Brahms’ Intermezzi, Menuhin forged his own suite out of this poignant valedictory material. His playing is remarkable particularly for his coordination of steady left hand rhythm and subtly applied morsels of right hand rubato. He grounds his performance in the metronome but sings his phrases like a wild bird. Just the tiniest hesitation produced the most profound of phrasing nuances, the old familiar ruminations illuminated (Menuhin Sr. was also a great phrase builder in Brahms).

The string playing this night was fabulous. Clive Greensmith, visiting from his first chair at the Royal Philharmonic, introduced the Hindemith with a little talk about the composer and the great academic versus emotionalist argument. I am personally fond of this music, although I understand those who find it dry. The trio in question was lovingly played by the participants, the slow second movement ghostly and melancholy, the playful third reminiscent of the Ach du lieber Augustin section of the Schoenberg String Quartet # 2. The devilish ending fugue movement was especially impressive, all three gentlemen giving their all for this arcane art. Hindemith was more than just a significant professor and theorist. There is always deep feeling in his viola music (his own instrument) and works like this one attest to the depth of his compositional well of aesthetics.

The rocking of the barge was absolutely perfect for a rendition of the ”Trout” and this version was pure joy. Mark Peskanov’s avian trills brought us to the edge of an imaginary forest and all of the players were obviously enjoying themselves immensely (their visages so indicated). There is a reason why the original ”Die Forelle” song is played by the string quartet sans piano, and it is not because the resulting sonority serves to highlight this most ebullient of melodies; rather it is because the pianist needs to rest for the onslaught of the most delightful but exhausting run of broken arpeggios in the entire repertoire. Menuhin played this notorious passage flawlessly and, at this point, it was my turn to smile as my tension was now sufficiently released to allow me to bask in the flowing love emanating from the stage. I have caught many “Trout” in my lifetime, but none more delicious than this one.

Echoes of Walt Whitman abound at the Fulton Ferry Landing. In 1855, in the poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, he wrote:

“A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence,
others will…enjoy the sunset,
the pouring in of the flood-tide,
the falling back to sea of the ebb-tide…”

He never realized that Olga Bloom would intensify the experience exponentially with ravishing chamber music, but I presume that he would have been extremely pleased.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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