This afternoon Peoples’ Symphony Concerts presented a brilliant chamber music program at Town Hall in Manhattan. Lise de la Salle, a marvelous young pianist, collaborated with string players from The Knights, a flexible chamber ensemble, to present a very “multicultural” program of music by Martinu, Mozart, Jedd Greenstein, Takemitsu, and Ravel.
Everything was impressively played, but what stays with me the most is the awesome Ravel Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello, performed with great passion by de la Salle and the Jacobsens – Colin (violin) and Eric (cello). There are many ways one can play this. I’ve heard it done with crystalline clarity and lightness, with classical grace, and with surging romanticism. This performance followed the romantic route, with big tone from all three players, and it really swept me away emotionally. What a great finale to the program!
The concert started with Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola by Bohuslav Martinu, performed by The Knights violinist Guillaume Pirard and violist Kyle Armbrust. This is not an easy work to penetrate. “Madrigals” as a title suggests something archaic and lyrical, but I don’t think one could use either of those words to characterize these pieces, which I found quite enigmatic. Then Pirard and Armbrust were joined on the stage by Eric Jacobsen and de la Salle for a dynamic performance of an old favorite, Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478, which I’ve known and loved since I was a teenager. This brought out a great feeling of nostalgia for me. This is definitely one of Mozart’s finest chamber music pieces, one great tune after another, played by these musicians with enthusiasm and technical precision.
The second half of the concert was planned as one continuous span with no real break between the pieces. First was Greenstein’s “Be There” for violin and piano, this time with Colin Jacobsen and de la Salle. The piece is a moderately-paced moto perpetuo, a long lyrical line unfolding as if in one long breath, dying down at the end as Jacobsen wandered away from the piano to a separate music stand to join Pirard in Takemitsu’s “Rocking Mirror Daybreak” for the two violins. I found this piece the most difficult to penetrate, having a hard time finding any sort of thematic line running through it. As it faded away, de la Salle began the Ravel Trio as Colin Jacobsen returned to sit next to Eric in time for the first sustained notes of that piece.
This was certainly one of the most memorable Peoples’ Symphony Concerts programs I’ve heard, and I hope they will continue to include such imaginative chamber music programs on their series. In structure it was somewhat like the Music from Marlboro programs, presenting contrasting chamber works for different combinations of instruments on one program — also like the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center — and I think this is an ideal way to present chamber music. Town Hall is also an excellent venue for this, with excellent acoustics and great sight lines from anywhere in the house. Large enough to hold an substantial audience, yet intimate enough to capture the sense of closeness on which chamber music thrives….