Mining the Rare Jewels Of Chamber Music
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Anton Bruckner’s String Quintet in F is often referred to in German-speaking countries as the “pearl” of the chamber repertoire. But here in the United States, it is extremely rare to hear it live. The audience enjoyed that chance on Monday evening, as the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players journeyed from their normal digs at the Good Shepherd Church to play Bruckner’s jewel in the air-conditioned confines of the Jewish Community Center on Amsterdam Avenue.
At just about 50 minutes, this fully developed symphony for strings is filled with surprises. Rather than following the example of his beloved Schubert and employing two cellos, the Austrian composer mimics Brahms by using two violas. Instead of weighty dramatic development, his quintet offers sweet, lovely progression. And he bypasses his propensity for thick textures by spinning his melodies horizontally rather than vertically, expanding them to delightful lengths.
This performance was first-rate.Violinist Xiao-Dong Wang, a founding member and frequent first violinist of the excellent chamber group Concertante, led mates Lisa Shihoten (second violin), Max Mandel and Eric Nowlin (violas), and Ani Aznavoorian (cello) in a well-planned rendition with a comfortably relaxed pace. The first movement, performed in three-quarter time, offered several opportunities for enjoyment, including an unhurried exploration of its lovely thematic material and interplay of the five strings in glorious alternation of singing tone. Although the blending of the group could have used a little more attention, the lyricism traveled well from chair to chair.
The Scherzo is one of Bruckner’s patented Upper Austrian dances: Part of its folksy charm lies in its clumsiness.The insertion of this type of unsophisticated dance into an otherwise urbane symphony inspired Bruckner’s pupil Mahler in several of his later symphonies. The group captured the ingenuousness of the movement expertly.
As in most Bruckner symphonies, the gem was the slow movement, painstakingly constructed by this talented quintet. Although the loveliest example of this type of movement in a string quintet must be reserved for Antonin Dvorák’s marvelous “Viola” Quintet, Bruckner’s effort runs a close second. On Monday night, these superb players caressed its quiet loveliness, giving the piece a sensitive treatment.
Two works rare in any part of the world also enjoyed play on the program. Ms. Aznavoorian, joined by clarinetist Vadim Lando and pianist Steven Beck, performed Ferdinand Ries’s Trio, Op. 28, a lively if quotidian work presented in the spirit of good fun and encyclopedic completeness. Ries, a pupil of Beethoven’s who wrote forgettable music, became somewhat famous later in life as a raconteur whose singular subject was his great teacher. (That most of his stories were fictional only added to their charm.) As a composer, he lacked inspiration but proved a competent craftsman. The musicians performed his work solidly enough, although I wished for considerably less self-effacement and more dynamic leadership from Mr. Beck.
Haydn’s “London” Trio No. 1, written for two violins and cello on his second trip to Britain, used to be performed quite frequently but has since fallen into disfavor. Flutist Barry Crawford took one of the fiddle parts and teamed with Ms. Shihoten and the evening’s cellist for a less heralded iteration. They offered tuneful, straightforward, and infectiously rhythmic music making.
Like the rest of us, the Jupiter Symphony players may be on a half boil during the summer, but their important and high-quality performances continue with one more concert at this venue on August 7, featuring a Beethoven Piano Quartet and a trio by Alexander Zemlinsky.
Until August 7 (334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street, 646-505-4444).