Sunday October 18th, 2015 - Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opening their new season at Alice Tully Hall with a sold-out concert that played to a crowd of music lovers as attentive as they were appreciative.
As is their wont, Chamber Music Society put together an impressive ensemble of musicians this evening; it was especially gratifying to hear cellist Nicholas Canellakis again after he had bowled me over with his playing of Leon Kirchner's Music for Cello and Orchestra with the American Symphony Orchestra this past April. Mr. Canellakis played in all three works this evening - a triple treat.
Over the course of the evening, three pianists took turns at the Steinway. After greeting the audience tonight in her capacity as co-artistic director of the Society, Wu Han took her place at the keyboard and dazzled us yet again with her subtle, evocative artistry. She was joined for the opening Haydn trio by Ani Kavafian - in her 44th year (!) of participating in the Society's concerts and playing with her characteristic super-fine style - and Mr. Canellakis, whose deep-burgundy cello resonance was amply pleasing.
The blended timbres of these three 'voices' and the gracious communicative rapport they established immediately drew the audience into the music, setting the tone for the whole evening. Their deeply-felt playing of the central Andante gave way to the foot-tapping dance rhythm of the final Allegro, which they set forth with joyous vigor.
The Mendelssohn D-major sextet sounded remarkably fresh this evening in a glowing performance of such dazzling clarity that the audience could barely suppress their delight, erupting in a gale of applause the moment the final chord was released. The players basked in a lively ovation, deservedly called out for a second bow.
And what players! The velvety bass of Joseph Conyers set the groundwork for the piece, with Mr. Canellakis and violists Paul Neubauer and Matthew Lipman summoning up some exceptionally tender harmonies in the Adagio, where Chad Hoopes interjected some sweet violin solo moments. In his first concert with CMS, pianist Michael Brown's rippling enticements and poised lyricism in the earlier movements gave way to thrilling virtuosity in the concluding Allegro vivace.
This final movement, taken at an exhilaratingly speedy pace, found all the players reveling in the dancing spirit of the work. A sudden change of pace and mood brought out some of Mr. Brown's most fabulous playing, and then the work sailed on to its invigorating end. The audience's spontaneous reaction and their embrace of the players during the ensuing applause was both joyous and heartfelt.
A tough act to follow, indeed; yet as pianist Anne-Marie McDermott led her colleagues out for the concluding Schumann, I felt certain we were in for yet another revelatory experience. And I was right.
Here we could more extensively savour Mr. Lipman's viola skills: this young musician, who made an impromptu CMS debut last season when he stepped in for another artist, displayed handsome tone and a smile that seemed to signal his delight in playing such great music for such an engaged audience. Ms. Kavafian, unspooling silken melodies, was amiably seconded by Mr. Hoopes, whilst Nicholas Canellakis polished off his evening with engaging, expressive playing. Ms. McDermott's luxuriantly dexterous playing fell ever-so-pleasingly on the ear.
In the first movement, cellist and violist participate in rise-and-fall scale motif, Mr. Lipman seeming to finish Mr. Canellakis's sentences. The second movement begins hesitantly; the viola becomes prominent, and Ms. Kavafian plays high and sweet. A rising scale theme is passed from voice to voice. In the concluding movement, we are dancing again; but there's a sudden volte-face, a slowdown where Ms. McDermott's piano rumbles in some lower range scalework before the engines are revved up again and the piece dances on to the end.
Another warm ovation, another double curtain call; and then out into the first chill of early Autumn.