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Bringing the audience to its feet at Bard

Music review
Sun Jun 18th, 2017

Sharon Robinson, Joseph Kalichstein, Bella Hristova, Milena Parjaro-van de Stadt

At Bard’s Olin Hall the Hudson Valley Music Circle presented “Summer Masterpieces,” a program of Schubert, Mozart, and Brahms. Schubert’s first String Trio in B-flat major (D. 471), written in 1816 when Schubert was eighteen and published more than sixty years after his death (as so many of his pieces and songs were) presents four short, delightful movements. The dramatic refrain in the first movement appears to have been influenced by the way Mozart used dramatic refrain in the piece that was played next.

Since Schubert played viola, the viola’s role finds equal footing with violin and cello amid what appears to be genial family conversation recording different personalities that discover harmonic agreement while not being shy about identity. That self-confidence generated in Schubert’s youth engendered his immense productivity. Bella Hristova, substituting for Jamie Laredo who is recovering from hand surgery, provided exciting forays while Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt on viola offered wisdom with elegance, and Sharon Robinson provided paternal resonance that kept the family on track.

In 1785 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was probably over-estimating the success that Figaro might bring, and consequently spending more than he had. Desperate for income, Mozart conceived of composing three piano (forte) quartets that would succeed by delighting and instructing others how to succeed in salons. After some prodding and begging the first was published, Piano Quartet in G minor (K. 478). It turned out that despite attractive melodies, there were a few bravura passages that only Mozart could play; plus people really couldn’t make out what the strings were up to. That wasn’t a problem last Saturday night.

Joseph Kalichstein on piano elegantly ran through sensitive and strong bravura runs, quickly hitting keys with a delicate modulation that offered such improvisational flavor that he became the incarnation of a capering Mozart flirting with the strings. The all-female string trio was perfectly appropriate—since the music presented male-female dialogue with charming zaniness: the first movement being dramatic social introductions, the second conversational flirtation, and the third erotic dance. I presume that if they could not play it correctly in Mozart’s day, they could not understand it. But the audience got it and wildly applauded their appreciation.

Yet I presume most attended the concert for Johannes Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor (Op.25). Kalichstein prefaced the performance by noting that while most people tend to think of chamber music as small, intimate musical events, that concept is not true for piano quartets and quintets—they are robust open works that invigorate all the instruments being played. Arnold Schoenberg was so captivated by broad coloring of this piano quartet that he turned it, note for note, into a symphony that now walks with the nickname “Brahms’ Fifth.”

Brahms made his 1862 concert debut as a performer of this piano quartet. The first reviewer fled the hall halfway through the concert, denouncing the dense “chaotic” excitement of first movement and the “doldrums” of the second, proving he was a buffoon for not recording the enjoyable satisfaction of the third movement or the irresistible gypsy-inspired fireworks of the last movement. All four performers were welded into a single, swelling instrument, and young Hristova on violin, especially on the passionate high notes, proved she belonged in this major league. The enthusiastic audience demanded three bows and would have preferred a fourth.

This was the Hudson Valley Chamber Music Circle’s Sixty-Seventh Summer Concert Series. The series concludes on June 24th at Bard with the Calidore String Quartet playing: Antonin Dvořák, String Quartet in F major (Op. 96) “American”; Paul Hindemith, String Quartet No. 4 (Op. 22); Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Clarinet Quintet in A major (K. 581). For tickets online: fishercenter.bard.edu/hvcmc or phone 845-758-7900.