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New York
Tisch Center for the Arts
11/07/2000 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Quartet in G Minor, K.478; Divertimento for String Trio, K. 563
Franz Schubert: "Trout" Quintet

Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
Cynthia Phelps (viola)
Ralph Kirshbaum (cello)
Timothy Cobb (double bass)
Yefim Bronfman (piano)

One of the reasons that Arnold Schoenberg scored the Brahms G Minor Piano Quartet for full orchestra was that, as a put-upon cellist, he was hoping to correct the serious imbalance between piano and strings. That weighting of sound towards the keyboard was invented by Mozart in his G Minor, written in 1785 when the piano quartet was a fresh new idiom. But actually the Mozart is more remembered in the C Minor of Brahms, with its piano chords announcing the horrible fate of the protagonist. Mozart uses G Minor for the 40th Symphony also to convey the sense of uncertainty and anxiety that haunted his late material and this quartet is essentially a sketch for the masterwork to come. Last evening at the 92nd Street Y, the formidable pianistic presence of Yefim Bronfman was designed to be tamed by platform positioning, the three string players perched directly in front of him to prevent his sound and image to totally dominate (they built a virtual wall in front of him in the later Schubert). However, the imbalance was still there and would have pleased the composer, who envisioned his two piano quartets as scaled down concerti, the piano in direct contrast, if not outright confrontation, with the continuo. The quartet was energetically and dramatically played but a second imbalance was revealed. New York is blessed with many great chamber musicians and these artists tonight seemed to be just droppers-in from the neighborhood, playing music together for the good fellowship for which it was originally intended. But New York's plethora of talent is also in many ways its curse; so many good performers interact with their colleagues in permutations and combinations which do not cohere as units, but rather as individuals coming together for one hopefully memorable evening. Each of the five players this night was of high quality, but they do not by any stretch of the auditory nerve sound like a glorious unified whole. Compared to the "house band" here at the Y (the fabulous KLR Trio), this was solid and yet ragged music making, individual lines clear and focused but overall sound disjointed and askew. The dark Adagio of the divertimento fared better, the three strings seeming to listen better to one another, but this aberration only served to point out that a little more rehearsal time could have yielded positively magical results.

The "Trout" Quintet is chamber music's equivalent of the "Italian" Symphony, a piece so sunny that it is impossible not to have a smile on your face while experiencing it. Impossible, that is, except for Mr. Zukerman, who seemed to be having a bit of an off night and wore his heart on his sleeve (and visage) throughout the proceedings. His mood was a far cry from that incredible video produced in the 1960's when he played the viola part in the Trout with his dear friends including Saint Jackie du Pre (with the hirsute Zubin Mehta playing the jazzy plucked double bass part). Then the spirit of pure joy was everywhere and reflected luminously on his beatific face. At present, he is still performing the classics with his friends, but somehow the bloom is off of the rose. Again Bronfman dominated ferociously, that devilishy long run in the fourth movement, actually variants on Die Forelle, played with a luminosity and vigor that was wonderfully infectious. Perhaps Mr. Z was frowning, but I left the hall with a big grin on my face, humming those amazing Schubert tunes.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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