You could be forgiven for thinking the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center had fielded a full team for Brahms’s Piano Quartet No 1 in G minor — perhaps even in Schoenberg’s orchestration — such was the power of their performance.
It was, in fact, only four of the Society’s evolving roster of artists, but the amplitude of their tone, combined with Brahms’s breadth of conception, created a potent effect.
The vigour of the gypsy-influenced finale was particularly arresting, but the richness of sound in the Andante was also impressive. The ensemble brought a new work by Brett Dean, Seven Signals, giving its UK premiere. As the title intimates, the piece is about non-verbal communication: a phenomenon for which music is especially well equipped, though the composer alludes to non-musical gestures too, such as Morse signals, evoking the distress calls of RMS Titanic, and telegraphy (executed by the string players making whipping motions with their bows).
The sixth movement is an aural representation of the way prisoners mark up days of confinement with lines etched on a wall, making a link with Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, composed and first performed in a German prison camp and scored, like Dean’s work, for clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The fine players in this engaging work were Tommaso Lonquich, Arnaud Sussmann, Nicholas Canellakis and Wu Qian.
With the equally excellent viola player Yura Lee, Beethoven’s String Trio in D, op. 9 no 2, was delivered as an eloquent conversation between friends. Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano was written as a competition piece for the Paris Conservatoire. It’s far more than a vehicle for virtuosity, however. As Lonquich and Qian showed, the challenge is to evoke a world of enchantment in the opening section — a requirement they met with aplomb — before seizing the opportunity to display the clarinettist’s technique. A prize-winning performance.