The fifth season of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at the Spa Little Theatre began Sunday afternoon with an unusually sensitive group of musicians at the helm performing a diverse and challenging program.
The Schumann Quartet of three brothers (violinists Erik and Ken, cellist Mark) and violist Liisa Randalu provided the backbone. Two stellar musicians assisted: violinist Nicolas Dautricourt and pianist GillesVonsattel. All of the musicians were or are members of the Society’s Chamber Music Two, a program geared toward providing performance opportunities for young professionals.
Dautricourt and Vonsattel began the concert with Alfred Schnittke’s “Suite in Old Style” (1972). It’s a lovely, odd little piece with sweetly singing melodies offset by faster technical romps. Dautricourt charmed with his lilting, well-paced phrasing. Vonsattel showed off snappy articulations, a very clean technique and tempered dynamics that made for excellent balances. The whole piece was unforced and relaxed only to end suddenly.
Ken and Mark Schumann and Randalu joined the duo for Shostakovich’s Quintet in G minor (1940). Shostakovich had been considered something of an iconoclast and been tolerated by Stalin, but it was his opera “Lady Macbeth” that made him a pariah. To get back in favor at least to the Russian people, he wrote this quintet, which brought him not only universal acclaim but the Stalin Prize — the highest award for artistic achievement.
In five movements, it has all of the composer’s stylistic choices: high drama, a big sound balanced by introspective moods; haunting and soaring lines of great longing that look to the horizon; the jokester with rough, percussive bowings and attacks; and a lyrical resolution of playful acceptance.
The musicians hit all the marks with great intensity, passion, superior ensemble work, and superb attention to detail. It was hard to believe they’d just gotten together this past week for the first time.
The Schumann Quartet was totally immersed in Beethoven’s work of experimentation: Quartet in C-sharp minor, Op. 131 (1825-26). Considered the Mt. Everest of the literature by many, it’s very long with numerous shifts of mood and style. The Schumann explored deftly, showed great smoothness of attack and despite a string on Erik’s violin breaking, which caused him to rush offstage to fix, the group’s level of concentration was unaffected.
The audience was wildly appreciative and got as encore Mendelssohn’s “Fugue in E-flat Major” written when he was 16.
The Schumann returns Tuesday with Haydn, Dvorak, and Schubert.