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Voces Intimae

New York
Fulton Ferry Landing
12/16/1999 -  

Franz Joseph Haydn: Piano Trio in D Major, Hob XV: 24
Dmitri Shostakovich: Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 40
Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 49

Carmit Zori (violin)
Bion Tsang (cello)
Mihae Lee (piano)

As the years pass the presentation of musical forms undergoes many transformations. Somehow chamber music has assumed a new identity in the twentieth century, forced to relinquish much of its conversational style in the pursuit of larger and larger audiences. Thus venues like Carnegie Hall or the various auditoria at Lincoln Center are filled with the small noise of a trio or quartet straining to reach the far corners of the rafters. The very nature of chamber music itself is threatened by this necessary quest for public acceptance There are still some places, however, where the art of the blended voices of two, three or four instruments still seems to be preserved in its original aspect and none of these are more pleasant, both environmentally and acoustically, than Olga Bloom's Barge on the East River. Cognoscenti of the intimate have been coming here now for years to experience lovely music in a relaxed and familial setting, restoring the hearth and the heart to this most subtle of all musical experiences. The warmth of Olga herself is matched by the roaring flames in the fireplace of what was once her private living room and is now a spectacular setting for rich and glorious music. On this particular evening the wind was howling on the landing and the barge was rocking on the choppy water but Olga's guests were cozy in the glow of both the comfortable surroundings and the fine, mature performances.

Perhaps the work best suited for the barge atmosphere was the Haydn, conceived as it was for the Esterhazy "at homes". Sometimes the problem at the barge is the lack of intimacy among the players and often there is a slap-dash quality to the performances due to a lack of integrated rehearsal time. The trio on this occasion, however, was very much in synch, bowing and breathing together in a highly spirited rendition of this optimistic piece. The crowd was small as well this night and it was easy to fantasize that one was in the Austrian court with only a beautiful princess and her retinue for company.

The most technically demanding feat of the evening was the cello part in the Shostakovich. One of those truly tortured works of this great master, the Sonata screams out its anguish, especially in the excruciating Largo, a quietly frightening cry of the banshee from the Soviet crypt. Mr. Tsang was particularly adept at conveying the emotions of this piece and was masterfully in control of the barrage of sixteenth and thirty-second notes which make up the intense second movement. Matching him note for note was the nimble Ms. Lee who conveyed an air of the strident as a warlike underpinning for the flights of the solo cello. Totally convincing and technically flawless, this was a thrilling performance.

The Mendelssohn allowed Ms. Zori and her fabulous tone to shine through. Tightly wrapped in her playing, her face painfully contorted into a hundred different visages, she led this fine group in a very emotional and yet controlled version of the old chestnut. Here was the perfect combination: fine chamber music with its unique sound in the proper size room, allowing each of us to experience something akin to what the composer actually had in mind. Mendelssohn's ephemeral sonorities in particular need this type of intimate setting and, when it all comes together as it did this night, the effect is extremely satisfying.

None of us in the modern world are rich or powerful enough to ever command a chamber group to play for us in our own personal setting like the nobility of the past, but, in settings like Bargemusic, we can still be the beneficiaries of that most exciting of all musical experiences: the personal connection between composer and listener. On rare evenings like this one the effect was that of sheer joy.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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