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Triple Threat

New York
Alice Tully Hall
05/05/2000 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Fantasia, Op. 77, Sonata # 5 for Violin and Piano
Alban Berg: Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Chamber Concerto

Cho-Liang Lin (violin)
David Shifrin (clarinet)
Yefim Bronfman (piano)
Joseph Silverstein (conductor)

In his two part exploration of the similarities between the chamber music of Beethoven and Berg, Yefim Bronfman has tried to vary the color patterns from that of monochromatic solo recital to kaleidoscopic chamber combinations. Last evening he demonstrated that he is superb in three areas of pianism: individual, accompanist and soloist with orchestra. In each area his sensitive touch prevailed and taught us much about this glorious music. Ably assisted by the members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Bronfman dazzled with his intellectualism and subtle nimbleness.

The Beethoven piano piece is the closest that a modern listener can ever come to experiencing the extemporaneous genius of this madly passionate performer. Really a transcript of an actual improvisatory session, it harkens back to an era when the great and the not so good spent hours at the keyboard just noodling around, hoping to strike musical gold. Apparently those composers who specialized in keyboard performance were expected to improvise as part of their concertizing. Bruckner is said to have been the master of this art (imagine what his fabled synthesis of themes from his own Eighth Symphony and the Siegfried Funeral Music must have been like!), but all of the masters from Bach to Brahms were famed for their ability to think on their benches Bronfman played this charmingly inventive piece with just the lightest touch of tomfoolery.

In a marvelous confluence of events, the weather finally broke here in New York yesterday and we were all slow to enter the hall last evening due to the seductive warmth of the air outside but were feted for our renunciation to a wonderfully airy performance of the "Spring" Sonata by two consummate artists. Mr. Lin brought the whole pallette with him this night and Bronfman was a complimentary but not intrusive accompanist.

As an impressionable and insecure young man, Alban Berg quickly fell in line at the Second Viennese school, although it took him a while to absorb his mentor's most important principle: always sing in your own voice. The primitive Four Pieces are aphoristic like Webern and represent a cul-de-sac in Berg's musical journey. Always the expansive lyricist, he foreswore this type of miniaturism almost immediately, preferring instead to recreate the flow of late Romanticism in a new idiom. Mr. Shifrin beautifully captured the rebellious spirit of this work, complete with fluttertonguing effects and a very precise coordination with Bronfman, who performed his part with such gentle precision that it almost seemed to be an illusion in the clarinetist's ear to which we were magically privy. Never have I heard these bagatelles played so lovingly or so pointillistically. Shifrin, executive director of the CMSLC, was ironically victimized at the almost imperceptibly silent end of the second piece, for even after he had made the obligatory pre-concert oration warning against the evils of electronic devices, a cellular telephone rang four times during this fragile conclusion.

The finale was a finely executed performance of Berg's dodecaphonic essay in strict patterning. During the composition of the Chamber Concerto, Berg wrote to Schoenberg exaggeratedly praising his own new found proficiency in fractal mathematics and relating it to this music. I have always thought of the piece as rather cold and angular and perhaps devoid of the real genius of this most emotional of all of the Viennese experimenters, but certainly this performance was as good as it gets. The marvelously named Joseph Silverstein, whose mane of white hair seems to type him as a conductor from central casting, kept everyone together through the complex interplay of melody and variation and both Lin and Bronfman were superb, the pianist exploding in paroxysms of notes when required. This was an interesting way to present a concert and the crowd seemed both challenged and pleased. During intermission I overheard a young couple talking. He said that he hoped the Berg would be interesting. She (from Germany) said that there was a great quartet in Berlin named the Alban Berg. He replied "…I don't think it's the same guy, I think he's dead". At least with evenings like this one, his music lives on.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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