Culture Magazine

Concert Review: Inspiration, Persperation and Adaptation

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
The Chamber Music Society offers a series of "farewell" works.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Concert Review: Inspiration, Persperation and Adaptation

Bella Hristova and Dmitri Atalpine tackle Dvořák at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Photo © 2019 The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Even the best music is often borrowed from somewhere else. Composers throughout history often draw their melodic inspiration from somewhere else, be it folk song, a medieval church mode or in some cases, other composers. It is always a moment of minor joy when one first hears a most memorable musical idea. Chagrin follows when one figures out the source material, or realizes where a thematic idea has been re-used.
On Tuesday night, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center offered a trio of works by Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Antonín Dvořák, that each involved a different application of the above principle. The performance was at Alice Tully Hall, and starred eight top-flight musicians in different chamber music arrangements. It was carried live on the NPR airwaves before a quiet and obedient audience that knew that they too, were being recorded.
The concert opened with Beethoven's sprawling Sonata No. 10 in G Major for violin and piano, played here by Bella Hristova and Gilbert Kalish. From the delicate opening trill, this pair gave a thoughtful and considered performance of the score that still glowed and sparkled with the inspiration that comes from good chemistry between players. Violin and piano took turns exploring the expansive opening movement, a vast sonata form that points the way forward to the composer's radical and experimental late style. The fourth movement features a number of musical jokes and false finishes, as if Beethoven couldn't decide which way to end the work, so he settled on using all of his ideas in succession.
Next came a unique item: a pared down septet arrangement of Metamorphosen, the 1945 work that Richard Strauss wrote for 23 solo string players. Here, it was just a septet, in the version arranged by cellist Rudolf Leopold in the 1990s. Mr. Leopold believed that Strauss intended this work for such a small scale, and his version has been toured and recorded, but is still not played often. This bare-bones approach functions something like one of Liszt's piano transcriptions of a Beethoven symphony. Melodic lines pop into sharper focus, and the interlocking dialog of the four themes around which the work is built becomes crystal clear. One could also hear bits of Strauss' operas bubbling in this single movement, alogside quotations from Wagner and Beethoven, particularly the funeral march from the Eroica Symphony.
The seven players: Ms. Hristova and violinist Arnaud Sussman, violists Mark Holloway and Richard O'Neill, cellists Dmitri Atalpine and David Requiro and bassist Xavier Foley, had the luxury of clarity. With the melodic lines pared to their bare essentials, each player had opportunity for the spotlight, from the mournful, descending theme that opens the work to the final Beethoven quotation that draws a slow curtain. Strauss wrote Metamorphosen as an elegy for the German culture he knew and loved, one which had been destroyed by the depredations of the Nazis and the carnage of the Second World War. As the musicians played the mysterious chords that end this work, they followed with a profound moment of silence.
It is the mark of a masterwork when a composition becomes source material for a brace of modern composers working in film and Broadway. Such a work is the Dumky Trio by Dvorak, which burst to life with Mr. Sussman, Mr. Atalpine and Mr. Kalish at their instruments. Dvořák threw out the rule book on this one, forgoing sonata form for a complex arrangement of Czech folk dances, some mournful and sad, others burstig with a riot of kinetic musical energy. Along the way, one heard themes used by John Williams (E.T.), Andrew Lloyd Webber (Evita) and Michael Giacchino (Prometheus, it's in the slow movement) but as the main musical idea of this piece is based on the Dies Irae, who's complaining?
This was a vital and energetic performance, with the three players working evenly off each other and each takin gthe lead leaping into the manic folk dances that pepper the score. These dance rhythms were also infections in the slow movements of the piece, offering the listener a response before pulling ones attention back onto the invisible dance floor. Dvořák's own brand of peculiar, stubborn humanism that has made him such a beloved composer came through here. If one ever questions why he continues to be such a fixture of the repertory, a performance like this would give ample reason why.
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