On Sunday, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center knocked the socks off its capacity audience at the Spa Little Theatre with an inventive program called “American Rhapsody” that focused on American composers with a reverence paid to Franz Schubert.
Schubert died at 31 but he produced more than one thousand pieces, a number matched only by J.S. Bach, who lived twice as long, said cellist David Finckel. His remarks were to explain John Harbison’s “November 19, 1828, for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello” (1968). The date is Schubert’s death and the piece is a kind of memorial.
But first, violinist Ani Kavafian and pianist Wu Han performed Schubert’s “Sonata in A Major” (1817). The writing has a purity of line and melody with parts evenly distributed between the two instruments. The duo had great balance, paid attention to details, and phrased with spirit.
Finckel, pianist Alessio Bax and violist Matthew Lipman joined Kavafian for the Harbison. The work had great transparency and mood. Initially, the strings played in close harmony before the piano played an ethereal solo. There were eloquent melodies and light piano work and a piece Schubert actually wrote. The fugue on Schubert’s initials was the most interesting with its dark lines and harmonies only to fade away. Everyone was very committed with their respect for Schubert as the final gesture.
The second half was lighter with sensational singing from soprano Michelle Areyzaga in Andre Previn’s “Vocalise for Soprano, Cello and Piano” (1995) and William Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs for Voice and Piano” (1978, 1996). Her lustrous voice, jazz styling, and theatrical manner really sold the songs. Bax was the perfect partner with his flexible sense of time and light touch.
Kavafian and Lipman thrilled with Mark O’Connor’s “F.C.’s Jig” (1993) with its Appalachian fiddle flavor, barnstorming energy and virtuosic give and takes.
The final work was Wu Han and Bax in Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” that Henry Levine arranged for four hands in 1924. It has all the music except for the opening clarinet slide, which Philadelphia Orchestra principal clarinetist Ricardo Morales played as a special surprise. He was on stage just for the first 10 bars or so. Then, with a small wave, he left. The duo wailed away, not always synchronized, but making up for that with their enthusiasm and stylish intent.
The crowd’s roar shook the theater.
The next program is Tuesday with Beethoven, Schubert, and Faure.