Thursday, 14 April 2011


I decided to go to the concert given by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall on April 12 because they had included the Shostakovich Piano Quintet in the program. This work has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it on my first visit the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville. Hearing it was an important part of the experience which made me pay a lot more attention to chamber music than I had previously. I vividly recall Michael Kieran Harvey who played the piano part with a manic enthusiasm staring fixedly at the string players urging them on to greater heights.

Andre-Michel Schub, the pianist at the Alice Tully Hall has a completely different style. Much of the time his playing was cool and precise as if he were playing a Bach transcription, or a Shostakovich prelude for that matter. He and the string players were appropriately vigorous in the Scherzo, but overall the performance lacked the excitement I sought. However, there was much interest in looking at the quintet in a different light. I particularly enjoyed some exquisitely delicate string playing in the second movement.

A new string sextet Seraphim Canticles by Russian born composer Lera Auerbach (b. 1973) followed the quintet. Lera Auerbach is a person of remarkable accomplishment.

According to the concert program, she has composed nearly a hundred works including chamber music, concertos, symphonies and opera and ballet. She is also an accomplished pianist. And she is a writer and poet having published two novels and five books of poetry and prose. She has the unusual distinction of being one of the last of many artists to defect from the former Soviet Union, which she did in 1991 (the year of its dissolution) while on a concert tour of the United States.

Seraphim Canticles is a fascinating work in which, except for a short period towards the end when the strings come together, each instrument follows a separate path. The paths are somehow integrated into an overall sound which varies from a great intensity to almost inaudible quiet.

Some of the quiet passages were accompanied by some very loud coughing from more than one member of the audience. I usually ignore these manifestations of disease by people who should have remained home in bed and concentrate on the music; but this time the interruption to serenely quiet passages in the music was so crass and insensitive that I thought Ms. Auerbach could be the victim of sabotage by former agents of the KGB.

After the intermission a differently constituted sextet played Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. It was a most enjoyable performance of this well known work. I have noted the players below. The only one of them I knew of was the great violist Paul Neubauer who has visited the Townsville festival more than once. I have a fond memory of hearing him play Joan Tower’s piece for solo viola Wild Purple one morning to a tiny audience in the Sacred Heart Cathedral. He has recorded this work for Naxos.

It was a great pleasure to hear him in a number of prominent passages for viola in Souvenir de Florence. The stage of the Alice Tully Hall looks too large for the small number of musicians gathered in the centre, but the acoustic is very clear and the voices of the individual instruments are clearly audible.

Shostakovich: Andre-Michael Schub piano; Erin Keefe and Shmuel Ashkenasi violins Yura Li viola Nicolas Altstaedt cello;

Auerbach: Yura Lee and Erin Keefe violins, Paul Neubauer and Yura Li violas, Fred Sherry and Nicolas Altstaedt cello;

Tchaikovsky: Shmuel Ashkenasi and Yura Lee violins, Paul Neubauer and Yura Li violas, Nicolas Altstaedt and Fred Sherry cello.

Russian Voices; CMS at Alice Tully Hall, 12 April 2011

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