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Long Day’s Czerny Into Night

New York
Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, 162 W. 66th Street
09/08/2008 -  2:00pm and 8:00pm
Ludwig van Beethoven: Trio, Opus 11, “Street Song”
Carl Czerny: Grande Sérénade Concertante, Opus 126
Johannes Brahms: String Quintet in F Minor (reconstructed by Sebastian H. Brown)

Lucille Chung (piano), Xiao-Dong Wang, Lisa Shihoten (violins), Dov Scheindlin (viola), David Requiro, Bronwyn Banderdt (cellos), Barry Crawford (flute), Vadim Lando (clarinet), Kari Kramer (French horn)

Lucille Chung

About 30 years ago, an iconoclastic conductor named Jens Nygaard started the Jupiter Symphony to present excellent professional musicians introducing some of the more neglected music of the 19th Century. It was a revolutionary idea, he succeeded in his goal, but with his passing, the Jupiter Symphony scaled down its forces. And is still presenting rarities of the past.

The quality of the music varies. Like Leon Botstein, whose American Symphony Orchestra resurrects Late Romantic rarities, these players have a series of 20 performances in the 100-year-old church (the only building on West 66th Street still standing!!). And they are especially proud to introduce music by composers who aren’t even listed in Groves or Wikipedia.

Their three works for the opening were not from rare composers, but I doubt that anybody had heard them in these arrangements. They did have the advantage of a roomy, resonant (sometimes too-resonant) church hall, and a group of the most international musicians who were, to a man or woman, simply phenomenal.

I speak especially of Lucille Chung, who I had last heard live in Hong Kong in 1989, but who now is one of the great interpreters of Scriabin and Ligeti. In the Beethoven Trio and a technically stormy piece by Czerny, she was not only perfect on the keys, but she gave color, impetus and—yes, let’s face it—brashness.

No reason not to. The first was Beethoven’s “street song” Trio, here with flute substituting for clarinet. In a way, this was more preferable. Clarinet and cello share much of the same range, and the color is muted for such an outgoing work. But flutist Barry Crawford, once in the original Jupiter Orchestra, was delightful, especially in the last variations (based on a pennywhistle melody), with as much enthusiasm as Ms. Chung. Cellist David Requiro was a bit disappointing, playing a subtle and delicate cello (almost like a continuo) next to his edgy partners.

The Grande Sérénade Concertante was written by the greatest pianist of his day—until outdone by his own pupil Franz Liszt. Czerny’s was, like Alkan and the later Thalberg, an exhibitionist, but one with such joy in his own proficiency that profundity or depth would have been gratuitous.

The truth is that the piece could have been written for piano alone, with all the pyrotechnics and fireworks on the keyboard. And all taken by Ms. Chung in her stride. But the outgoing work had some whiz-bang clarinet solos by Vadim Lando and spotlessly clean horn playing by Karl Kramer. The result was a work which never outlived its fun, was a pleasure, and will soon be forgotten.

The second half was devoted to a familiar work by Brahms/not-Brahms, and which needs a history all its own.

Brahms had written a String quintet (with two cellos), which his friend Joachim said was “too muddy”, and which Brahms discarded after rewriting it for two pianos. Joachim liked that, but Clara Schumann didn’t like it and said he should make an orchestral version. Instead, Brahms discarded that, and wrote the Piano Quintet, which everybody liked. (The orchestral version was written a century later by Arnold Schoenberg.)

In the late 1940’s, one Reginald Brown, a musicologist who supposedly heard Eternal Voices commanding him to write the original Brahms, did just that. Not from scraps of the original, but from the Voices, from scholarship, and from the Piano Quintet. And that was (whew!) what was played yesterday.

The five players were wonderful, they played with vigor and strength, and the few solo parts (many given to violist Dov Scheindlin) were quite brilliant. Alas, the mystical Mr. Brown could well have left it alone. Compared to both the Piano Quintet and the Schoenberg work, this did seem muddy, fat, the Brahms lines blurred. Perhaps in a drier concert hall, it would have had a cleaner time of it. But here, the resonances which augmented the colors of diverse instruments in the first two pieces only smudged some of Brahms’ finer inspirations.

Still, it was worth hearing one time. So, too, should the 19 future concerts of Jupiter be this year, featuring works by Schlegel, Rufinatscha (the pride of the Tyol Mountains), Sobeckk Gernsheim….and less obscure composers like Bach, Haydn, Puccini, and lots of Schubert.

If God is dead, at least these creative young musicians are showing that the Presbyterian Church still vibrates with life.

Harry Rolnick



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