Chamber Society of Lincoln Center brings warmth and fire to Celebrity Series

November 18, 2019 at 1:20 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Violinist Arnaud Sussmann, pianist Wu Han, cellist David Finckel and violist Paul Neubauer performed Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center concert at Jordan Hall. Photo: Robert Torres

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has presented renowned artists in performances marked by precision and poise for 50 years. That tradition continued Sunday afternoon in a Celebrity Series recital at Jordan Hall, where musicians from the New York ensemble, led by artistic directors Wu Han and David Finckel, offered music by Ernő Dohnányi, Brahms, and Beethoven.

Separated by over a century, the works on Sunday’s program featured the respective composers exploring the boundaries of traditional form. Brahms created lush, orchestral-like tapestries out of the same sprawling structures that Beethoven explored even in his earliest compositions. And Dohnányi, the afternoon’s main discovery, drew heavily upon Brahms’s sensuous style.

Today, the composer’s reputation largely rests upon his social activism: He refused to expel Jews from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, an institute he served as director, when Nazism had overrun his native Hungary. But the composer penned a number of attractive works that, even as late as the year of his death, 1960, recalled the sweep and grand gestures of high romanticism.

His Serenade in C major for String Trio, Op. 10 is such a score. In Sunday’s performance, cellist Finckel, violinist Arnaud Sussmann and violist Paul Neubauer found a sense of dimension and grandeur. Together, the musicians charted Dohnányi’s sudden chromatic shifts with verve. They dug in for a furious Marcia, with the ensuing folk-like theme taking on rustic vitality. The thorny lines of the Scherzo’s fugue unspooled into a plush trio, which flowed congenially.

The Romanza showcased a sweet-toned line from Neubauer that soared over Sussmann and Finckel’s gentle pizzicatos. The violinist and cellist then took over the figures, building them to powerful heights. The fourth movement unfolded from a soft chorale theme, and the players took listeners on a vivid tour through the lush counterpoint of each variation. The concluding Rondo moved nimbly, the musicians treating the return of the opening theme with an urgency that carried into the final flourish.

Brahms crafted his Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25 in a similarly dramatic vein. On Sunday, pianist Han joined the trio of strings in a performance with sensitivity and conviction. The first movement — shaped spaciously — showcased the strings in warm lines that flowed smoothly between players. Han provided sturdy support, building her passages into harmonies that brought depth and power to the ensemble sound.

The middle movements titled towards light, with the Intermezzo unfolding gracefully in its bright tempo. Likewise, the Andante con moto was a scene of beaming lyricism, and the march that appears mid-movement moved with regal pomp. The crux of the work is the concluding gypsy rondo. Through all its swirling lines, trickling arpeggios, and brusque climaxes, the musicians played with the reverie of a village band.

Han, Sussmann, and Finckel opened the recital with Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 1, No. 1. Premiered in 1795, this early score shows Beethoven pushing the limits of a genre he learned from his teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn. While the work bears fine balance and elegance, its lines spin off into unexpected paths marked by sudden shifts in key.

Sunday’s performance revealed every nuance and surprise. In the first movement, Han’s gentle phrases complemented Sussmann and Finckel’s burnished melodies. The exposition repeat featured the trio in subtle rubato, making for a fine contrast from the opening statement.

The Adagio cantabile was like a song without words, and each musician reveled in the shifting instrumental colors. Finckel’s cello here was dry, but singing, and Han found searching mystery in the minor-key passages while Sussmann floated silvery lines overhead. The ensemble brought full Beethovenian fury to the Scherzo, with the Trio making for a delicate departure. All found the humor in the trickling lines of the finale.

The encore, Hermann Schulenburg’s Puszta-Märchen, featured Neubauer walking in the aisles serenading audience members before he joined the players onstage for the fiery ending — an apt finale for an occasion of both intimacy and excitement.

The Celebrity Series will host the Los Angeles Philharmonic in music by Ginastera, Stravinsky, and Adams, featuring pianist Yuja Wang 2 p.m. Saturday at Symphony Hall. celebrityseries.org; 617- 482-6661

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