Review: Lincoln Center performers delight weather-beaten fans

A small crowd of die-hard fans braved the challenging weather Wednesday night to hear some superlati

A small crowd of die-hard fans braved the challenging weather Wednesday night to hear some superlative playing from members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s touring arm at Union College’s Memorial Chapel.

The concert, which was part of the 40th International Festival of Chamber Music, featured violinist Erin Keefe, cellist Andres Diaz, and pianist Alessio Bax, who were making their debuts, and violinist Arnaud Sussmann and violist Paul Neubauer, who have appeared before on the series. Bax was also a last-minute replacement for ailing pianist Jeremy Denk. Bax proved to be a quick study.

All the players were either competition winners, recipients of Avery Fisher Career Grants, a celebrated master (Neubauer) or a new concertmaster (Keefe, with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra). With such high-powered expertise, the audience could expect to hear nothing less than the best, and they got it.

The program began with Dvorak’s early and very charming Bagatelles for piano, two violins and cello (1878). These were wonderfully melodic, short movements that had the two violins interweaving in close harmony against a gently punctuating cello and in exchanges with the piano. Occasional syncopation, frothy and sparkling runs and lively tempos provided interest. As expected, the ensemble playing was exceptional in its control, unified interpretations and sympathetic approaches.

Far more intense was Martinu’s Duo No. 1 for violin and viola called Three Madrigals (1947) with Sussmann and Neubauer. The parts are written close together and constantly exchange material. This made for something of a contest. The musicians are both very forceful players and they pushed each other to match trills, dynamic levels and speeds. Technical demands were high anyway, but their dash and intense exuberance made the piece all the more virtuosic. It was a breathlessly superb performance.

Bax knocked the socks off the audience in Liszt’s “Dante Sonata.” He produced a huge amount of volume that bookended the delicate, dreamy and romantic inner section. Bax paced himself well and impressed with his quicksilver octave passages, sharply dry releases and the amount of energy he expended to create the dramatic inferno. The audience gave him a standing ovation.

Everyone played on Dvorak’s Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 (1887). With Keefe soaring on the first violin part, the dense score provided everyone with plenty to do. Three of the movements were thick with melodic development and drama. Only the delightful third movement, which was the shortest, had a light, frothy feel, with everyone seeming to dance over their strings or keys.

The next concert in the series is Wednesday with powerhouse pianist Yefim Bronfman.

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