The performance of Sergey Taneyev’s Piano Quintet has been eagerly anticipated all season by fans of the piece, among whose numbers this writer counts himself. It is a gigantic work, almost 50 minutes that is the culmination of late highly chromatic Russian romanticism. It is a rich dish indeed: musical foie gras drenched in béarnaise, perhaps.
While it can sound overblown in an "it was a dark and stormy night" kind of way, and such romantic fervor is not to everyone’s taste, it is sheer heaven to its admirers. And it was played for all it’s worth on Friday evening when it ended the Chamber Music International concert at St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church in Richardson. (The program repeats tonight at SMU's Caruth Auditorium.)
The players were certainly up to the task. The big star of the evening was pianist Joyce Yang (silver medalist in the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition), but the other players are all equally distinguished. They are violinists Cho-Liang and Fort Worth Symphony Concertmaster Michael Shih, violist Paul Neubauer and cellist Eric Kim.
All five dug into the piece with determination and ferocity. The rosin dust was really flying as they built one big crescendo after another. The quiet sections were equally inspiring and intonation almost always rang true. Some of the big moments were really big, and it was feared that the end would be anticlimactic but, amazingly, the really biggest sounds came right where it should—at the thrilling conclusion of the last movement. Where they found more sound for the final chords is a mystery. The church rang to the rafters.
Was it overplayed? Well, maybe. But this is an "in for a penny in for a pound" kind of work and I, for one, was pleased that they went all out. While all of the players were wonderful, Yang was especially impressive in that she didn’t allow the piano to dominate the ensemble, which can easily happen in this piece.
Too bad it wasn’t recorded.
Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 70, No. 1 opened the program. This work is subtitled the "ghost" for reasons that are murky, but so is the slow movement and it is speculated that prevailing mood was the inspiration for the name. Beethoven was working on an opera based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the time so witches and ghosts were certainly on his mind. (Too bad he never finished it.)
Yang, Kim and Shih gave the trio a convincing reading. The slow movement was the highlight with some beautiful sounds coming from the two string players. The first movement was dramatic right from the start and the last movement had just the right amount of playfulness underlying the serious nature of the whole piece.
Bohuslav Martinů’s 3 Madrigals for Violin and Viola, H.313 ("Duo No.1") ended the first half of the program with Shih and Neubauer doing the honors. Martinů was a Czech composer, very active in the early 20th century, whose music is unjustifiably ignored today. This duo for the two-stringed instruments is a perfect example of the craft he displays in everything that came from his prolific pen. The first movement is fast, rough and contrapuntal while the second movement shimmers with trills. The last movement is back to the rough and tumble with some jazz influence tossed in. Shin and Neubauer played up a storm and it was amazing to hear how much sound the two of them could make in the finale.