“The Heart of the Concerto”
Merkin Concert Hall
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Quartet in E-flat Major K. 493: Allegro – Piano Concerto No. 21 in C-Major K. 467: Andante
Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations on Mozart “Lŕ ci darem la mano” for oboe, violin and viola, WoO 28 – String Trio in G-Major op. 9 No. 1
Joseph Haydn: Piano Trio in F-sharp minor Hob.XV.26: Adagio cantabile
An die Musik: Robert Ingliss (oboe), Mark Peskanov, Cornelius Duffalo (violin), Nicholas Mann (viola), Edward Arron (cello), Constance Emmerich (piano)
The latest presentation of An die Musik, an august New York chamber group celebrating its 40th anniversary this season, brought back memories of once popular LP compilations, especially to an old-timer such as myself. Some of us may remember those albums where separate movements of different concertos were put together to create relatively easy and pleasant listening. They were almost always very good or even great performances by leading musicians of the era; however the listener didn’t need to hear a full piano or violin concerto.
The program which An die Musik gave us on Sunday fitted this mold: about the only complete work we had a chance to hear was the concluding piece in the program, Beethoven’s Trio in G-Major for violin, viola and cello. What this program fortunately had in common with the old gramophone recordings I remembered was that the performances we heard were for most part also first-rate.
For this occasion the group of highly esteemed musicians consisted of violinist Mark Peskanov, violinist Cornelius Duffalo, violist Nicolas Mann, cellist Edward Arron, oboist Robert Ingliss and, at the piano, founder of An die Musik, Connie Emmerich.
The first work on the program, an opening Allegro from the Piano Quartet in E-flat by Mozart received vigorous reading and here one had to admire not only the string players but also the senior among them, Ms. Emmerich, who was still able to conquer the difficult runs in the piano part. One also had to think highly of the string players’ contribution, who must have played this work hundreds of times yet retained the music’s freshness and involvement: they alone made one wish to hear the remaining two movements.
The work which followed was an interesting example of the “art of arrangement” popular in the 19th century. Here one of the most famous of Mozart piano concertos was arranged by Ignaz Lachner (1807-1895) for string quartet and oboe, with the piano part unchanged from the original. We heard only the Andante movement, which five decades ago was made famous by the soundtrack to the film Elvira Madigan. The results were much more satisfying than what we hear more and more often when pianists decide to play some of the earlier piano concertos (K. 413, 414 and 415) with the frail assistance of a string quartet alone. Listening to this version made me want to find out whether there were any other Lachner arrangements of Mozart Piano Concertos, that perhaps could be performed without the need to hire a full orchestra.
The first half of the concert concluded with another arrangement, this time of Beethoven Variations on Mozart’s “Lŕ ci darem la mano”, one of the best known pieces from Don Giovanni. The original arrangement, premiered in Vienna in 1797, called for the unusual combination of two oboes and English horn. Here we were offered quite a compelling version for violin, viola, and oboe: this virtuoso rendering was presented by Messrs. Peskanov, Mann, and Ingliss. Even if one didn’t know who had authored this set of variations – whose theme was later chosen for similar treatment by Chopin and Liszt – I imagine one would not have much trouble guessing Beethoven. A typical Beethovenian treatment of the melodic material, with a slow minor variation before the end and a galloping final one, much reminiscent of the Kakadu Variations – a late opus number but a work written about the same time. Listening to this attractive set one could be assured of one thing: Beethoven must have an excellent oboe payer to his disposal to conquer all the demands of this difficult part, here delivered by Mr. Ingliss with great mastery.
After the intermission came just the Adagio cantabile from the magnificent Haydn Piano Trio in F-sharp minor. Again one wished this segment of rare profundity written in a key rarely used by Haydn would at least be followed by the concluding Tempo di Minuetto.
The program ended with a high-voltage performance of the String Trio in G Major by Beethoven, the first of three trios comprising Op. 9. Though relatively early works, they already show signs of both audacity and mastery. The last of the set, the one in C minor, is considered by many to be one of the great masterpieces of the genre. In the Trio No. 1 the musicality and virtuosity of the three players impressed me greatly and I believe that the spectacular, extravagant, and harmonically daring final moto perpetuo must have left not only the musicians but also their audience breathless. All three contributed evenly, proving their mastery and virtuosity. Peskanov demonstrated not only his typical ease of playing but time and again the fact that he has perhaps one of the best up-bow staccatos in the business; Arron showed off the magnificent sound of his cello, and Mann provided several beautiful solo lines. All in all a gripping, virtuosic, musical, and joyful performance of one of Beethoven’s early examples of string writing, one that was soon to be followed by his magnificent string quartets.
Over the years An die Musik, founded in 1976 by Ms. Emmerich and violinist Elliott Chapo, has developed a large group of followers: this afternoon Merkin Hall was packed with them. Unlike this writer they didn’t mind the format of “The Heart of the Concerto”. Not only was the audience enthusiastic but, more importantly, many of the patrons left auditorium with a smile: could the musicians ask for anything more?
An die Musik’s website