There was little doubt that we were in for a great concert on Saturday evening. Chamber Music International always has a distinguished list of artists, but this concert really had a stellar lineup.
Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker has been making headlines around the country this season as he played nearly a dozen different concerti with orchestras around the world—from Rachmaninoff No.3 to the Barber while tossing in a couple by Mozart. Taiwan-born violinist Cho-Liang Lin was Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 2000. Another Canadian, cellist Desmond Hoebig has been principal cellist for the Cleveland, Houston and Cincinnati symphonies, not to mention a prizewinner at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Violist Aloysia Friedmann, who is married to Parker, turns up in all of the most prestigious venues, from Acting Concertmaster with the Houston Opera (she is an equally gifted violinist) to an onstage role in The Merchant of Venice production that also starred Dustin Hoffman.
These four superb musicians came together like an alignment of planets to play a memorable performance of the Brahms Piano Quartet in C minor, Opus 60. This piece has always been an audience favorite. It is Brahms at his most romantic, inspired by Goethe’s pre-romantic tearjerker novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers or The Sorrows of Young Werther. It is a story about a young man in love with a woman committed to another who sees no escape but his own suicide, not wanting to hurt either of the other two in the triangle. This was semi-autobiographical of Goethe’s life, and closely resembled the predicament in the young Brahms found himself with his mentor Robert Schumann and his wife Clara.
Werther inspired a rash of suicides caused by romantic over-boiling and impressionable young men in perceived hopeless situations. Whether Brahms ever considered such a drastic measure is doubtful but he did tell his publisher to put a picture of himself, dressed as Werther and holding a pistol, on the cover of this quartet when it was published. That didn’t happen but his state of mind at the time certainly produced an impassioned piece of music. And there are two loud chords at the end that could be interpreted as gunshots.
All this background is offered to try to convey to those who were not present on Saturday the power that these four artists gave to this performance. They took this story to heart and gave such an impassioned performance that the audience was completely caught up in the emotions. When Hoebig started the slow movement, after a few minutes of absolute silence while he prepared his mind to play, we all held our breath. The last movement has always come off as exciting but this time there was an overlay of desperation that subtly changed the perception of the music. We were all caught up in the sorrows of the young Brahms.
The rest of the program was equally fine and much calmer. They presented a note-perfect reading of Beethoven’s Op. 1 No.1. Even in his first compositions, Beethoven was strikingly original. Parker, Lin and Hoebig gave it a stylistically correct performance, with minimal vibrato, but let the wild, and sometimes playful, Beethoven shine through the classical restraints.
Parker and Lin played John Harbison’s Sonata for Violin. This is a work they commissioned and they played the premiere a short three weeks ago in New York. This five-movement work is played without a pause between the sections. It is a challenging piece to play, presenting many technical difficulties, and equally challenging to hear. It didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. Part of the problem was the melding of the musical divisions. You lost track of where you were in the piece. Also, it didn’t really end, but just faded away and finally sort of stopped, as if the players themselves lost interest and decided to go out for a beer.
The entire concert was terrific butt he Brahms will forever stick in the memory.