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New York
Fulton Ferry Landing
06/03/1999 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Flute Quartet K 285
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Song for Soprano, Violin and Piano, Op. 4 # 4
Johannes Brahms: Paganini Variations, Book II; Piano Quartet # 1

DeBorge Pinnington (soprano), Lu Ann Peskanov (flute), Mark Peskanov (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola), Zuill Bailey (cello), Alexander Peskanov (piano)

Summer in the city offers a number of relaxed and unusual venues, but none is so exquisite in its surroundings as Bargemusic, a converted vehicle that is permanently moored at the Fulton Ferry Landing, that hidden away place which offers the absolute best view of the lower Manhattan skyline. Unfortunately Le Concertographe does not currently offer pictures (although I took a number of them for a friend last evening) and so only my inadequate words can describe this amazing labor of love from the heart of one of New York’s most endearing treasures, the former violinist Olga Bloom, who just recently celebrated her eightieth birthday. When Olga and her husband retired some twenty years ago they had a vision of bringing music to the city in a setting similar to the out of town spots like Marlboro Vermont and had the joint inspiration of purchasing an old barge and converting it into a concert hall. Having sold their house to finance this venture, they began in earnest to create a glorious alternative for New York music lovers. However, Olga’s husband died almost immediately thereafter and she found herself alone with this white elephant just recently towed to a spot near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. With no funds to speak of, Olga moved onto the barge and set up housekeeping (her old fireplace is still visible in the concert hall) and began on her own to convert the old wreck into the magnificent hall that stands today. The sight of the little lady with the hammer and nails prompted workers at the yard to help out and eventually, through sheer force of will and an overwhelmingly obvious love of music, she was able to begin to solicit contributions from private donors and finally the City of New York. The end result is an acoustical marvel, very warm sounding due to the wooden interior, and the most attractive concert stage in the city, with the majestic skyline as the backdrop for the music making. Even the best lighting designers at the Metropolitan Opera cannot compete with the natural beauty of the sunset over the lower island and the subsequent brightening of the high rise buildings in the crepuscular light.

The other charm of the barge is its family atmosphere. The musicians dress very casually and rehearse right in front of the public. People bring their children (sometimes a mixed blessing) and spend time strolling the area and going topside for yet another magnificent view (it is even a stop on the ubiquitous tour buses now). As in all relaxed venues, the down side is the phenomenon of making everyone too comfortable, so that the chatter level during performance is quite unacceptable.

Last night’s program exuded the warmth and fellow-feeling of a family musicale, which it essentially was with so many of the participants related to one another. The highlight of the first half was the two songs performed by Ms. Pinnington. First, there was a traditional Russian song complete with balalaika obbligato performed on the violin. This was followed by the charming Rachmaninoff piece, made ever so much more moving by the violin accompaniment composed by his recital partner Fritz Kreisler. Less satisfying was the performance of the extremely difficult Brahms variations. It is not generally perceived by the untrained ear, but the Paganini Variations are some of the most difficult to perform in the entire repertoire because of their composer’s strict adherence to the key of A Minor and the resulting lack of black keys in the fingering. It is very easy to get lost in this musical Bermuda Triangle and Mr. Peskanov was not as secure in his moorings as the ever shifting barge itself.

The second half of the program was a very moving if idiosyncratic performance of the great Piano Quartet #1, the first of the monumental chamber pieces of Brahms. All of the string playing was truly intense, emphasizing the youthful Sturm und Drang of the Hamburg master. The Rondo alla Zingarese finale was extremely spirited (Olga told me afterwards that it sounded like The Charge of the Light Brigade) and featured a surprisingly gorgeous portamento by Mark Peskanov in the dreamy middle section (I am really a sucker for this now out of fashion style of string phrasing). The ending presto was actually prestissimo and stirred the crowd to thunderous applause (this is one of the most exciting endings in the entire chamber repertoire as is evident in the remarkable percussion parts in the Schoenberg orchestration). To my amazement, the entire movement was encored brilliantly, a feat perhaps not in keeping with the sanctity of Carnegie Hall, but completely a propos for this wonderfully easy-going venue. Of course, the Peskanovs play in a style that is highly Slavic and, with the rolling sensations beneath our feet, put me more in mind of Koussevitzky’s cruise ship concerts on the Volga than anything even remotely resembling a Germanic performance of Brahms, but this ersatz Gypsy music can always stand a little crossculturalism. Truly a different evening, the totality of the Bargemusic experience is one of the fine hidden pleasures of this greatest of cities.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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