The Concertante Effect
Merkin Concert Hall
Gioacchino Rossini: Duo in D for Cello and Double Bass
Richard Strauss: Metamorphosen
Franz Schubert: "Trout" Quintet
Adam Neiman (piano)
Just this week, after 66 years, the New York stage premiere of Daphne by Richard Strauss was mounted by City Opera at Lincoln Center. Among other notable passages is the instrumental music that accompanies the maiden’s transformation into the laurel tree, a preservation of her innocence for all eternity. This section, a particular favorite of the composer and his wife in their last years, reads like a sketch for Strauss’ highly emotional Metamorphosen, the poignant, tear-stained, stringed recollection of an era now lost forever. This is decidedly the music of an old man.
Christa Ludwig learned her singer’s craft from her mother, who retired from the opera stage to raise her family. Mother’s great wish for her precocious darling was that she could last long enough physically as a singer to be able to put into her music what she had learned from life experience. There are simply some pieces that cannot be fully explored by young people: no conductor should even be allowed to open the score of Falstaff until after his sixtieth birthday.
So what can a brash Gen Y group like Concertante do with the regretful music of the aged Strauss? Offer a new and interesting version, for one thing. The arrangement for string septet is really a rarity and these extremely accomplished musicians put it forward with great aplomb. Evocative of that radiant section of Capriccio for sextet, this chamber adaptation has refreshing clarity but not enough thickness to really express the deep feelings inscribed within the work. Unlike, for example, Transfigured Night, this piece must have a somewhat beefy sound to be completely successful. But this fine young group still impressed with its emotional involvement and extremely solid technique.
It was while listening to an interview with Ms. Ludwig that I first realized the unique contrarian quality of Schubert’s lieder. She pointed out that Death and the Maiden was actually a song of comfort while Die Forelle, despite its outward jollity, was in fact a song of deep sadness. However, the chamber piece derived from the latter song is filled with Gemuetlichkeit, may indeed be the very emblem of neighborly fellow-feeling. Still, there is that underlying Schubertian sadness, the pent-up feelings of the wallflower condemned to always watch the gaiety from a respectful distance (the essence of much of the magic of Mahler as well).
This performance was simply wonderful. Joined by pianist Adam Neiman, Concertante delivered one of the most robust and ebullient readings that I have ever heard. Concentrating on a lighter touch, the group dug deeply into the dance rhythms and infectiousness that is Schubert at his magical best. No piece in the entire repertoire is as life-affirming as the ”Trout”, but it takes a certain spirit to truly capture this most delicious of fish. The playing was exceptional throughout and Mr. Neiman added just the right sense of contrast between powerful and buoyant.
My only problems with this reading were stylistic ones. There were several instances of ornamental touches that simply did not belong in a piece still spawned under the influence of Classicism. Internal crescendi seemed effective, but in a romantic way that evoked the latter part of the 19th century rather than the earlier. However, this is but a cavil. Overall we were treated to really fine music-making with an enthusiastic crowd relishing every moment (so much so, in fact, that they applauded vigorously after the famous false ending).
I have now taken three different musically sophisticated friends to the last three Concertante events. Each time, the reaction has been the same: “I can’t believe how great they are!”. From now on, let’s call this the Concertante effect. It is so difficult for a younger group to get proper recognition. Here’s hoping that these particulars players get out from under their bushel soon.
Frederick L. Kirshnit