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Such Good Friends

New York
Weill Recital Hall
04/09/2003 -  
Franz Joseph Haydn: Divertimento in C (U.S. Premiere)
Franz Peter Schubert: String Trio in B Flat; "Trout" Quintet

St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble

“…there’s no friends like the old friends…

James Joyce, The Sisters

One of the great pieces of archival material from the last century is a video performance of the ”Trout” Quintet featuring five young musicians destined for superstardom. The ensemble, Itzhak Perlman, violin, Pinchas Zukerman, viola, Jacqueline DuPre, cello, Zubin Mehta, bass and Daniel Barenboim, piano, seems to be a dream team put together by the serious music forerunners of MTV until one realizes that they were simply a group of good friends and colleagues, and isn’t that what Schubert chamber music is all about? Certainly, bass players with clout push this work as their opportunities to shine in small settings are limited. John Feeney happens to be married to violinist and St. Luke's Director of Chamber Music Krista Bennion Feeney and so a presentation of this supremely joyous experience is a natural. For local fans, the only bassist of equal juice would be Edgar Meyer (who has indeed played the Trout at Tully), but then you have to put up with his neo-classical hillbilly music on the same program.

As if one did not feel enough like an Esterhazy when visiting Weill Recital Hall, its comforting combination of intimacy and opulence fostering an atmosphere of nostalgic daydream and visions of royal musicales, last evening we were all treated to an American premiere of a piece by Haydn! At least, that is the best scholarly guess as this divertimento was found in a dusty monastic archive in Austria and, although not in the master’s hand, appears to be the real deal from the point of view of instrumentation (it also enjoys status as a lost work in the Hoboken catalogue). A typical enlightenment bit of optimism, what most struck me was the thoroughness of the melodic line, the sense that Papa could spin out the tunes as effortlessly as a spider does its silk. The air of conviviality emanating from the stage quickly absorbed the patrons: here we had a soothing, head-bobbing experience that no savage breast could resist. As a quibble, I would point out that the pulse sometimes lagged a bit (one of the most difficult aspects of musical performance is steady repetition), but overall this was a fine and revelatory performance. I think that commissioning bodies should encourage this fellow Haydn; if a premiere of such quality is any indication, he might be a welcome and medicinal influence in contemporary music.

No work of music is as joyful as the famous Schubert. Something so infectious is at the heart of the ”Trout” that it is literally impossible for audiences to refrain from rhythmic bodily movements, usually tastefully confined to fingers and toes. Again, the warm, familial style of the St. Luke’s players shone through although, oddly, the same lack of propulsion as in the Haydn plagued the opening movement of this towering work. Last minute substitute pianist Diane Walsh had some difficulties initially, her left hand weak and wayward, causing a loss of essential bottom. However, she made a strong recovery and by the time of her big broken-chord assault in the fourth movement (a notorious bete noir for keyboard practitioners), she was most impressive. More important than any of the individual moments was the excellent shape of the work and the celebratory élan of the rendition. The proof of the pudding is that, as I write this notice at 5AM, I can’t stop whistling those marvelous Schubert tunes.

Bravi tutti!

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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