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Manifest Legacy - Beethoven and Brahms: Jeffery Kahane (piano), Cho-Liang Lin (violin), David Finckel, (piano), Alice Tully Hall, New York City, 9.2.2011 (SSM)


Beethoven: Piano Trio in D major for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op.70 No.1, "Ghost"

Piano Trio in E-flat major for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 70 No. 2

Brahms: Piano Trio in B major for Piano, Violin and Cello, Op. 8

It's unfortunate that this concert started off on a bad (non-musical) note: as the musicians were about to sound the first upbeat of the evening, a woman in the row behind me yelled loud enough for the entire audience to hear, “Will the car be there for us?” Her husband then continued the conversation, stating that they were sitting in the wrong seats. This was shouted, mind you, after it had been announced that the performance was being broadcast and that special attention should be given to ensure all electronic devices were turned off. The audience was asked to remain as silent as possible during the performance.


Whether this indiscretion actually rattled the players who clearly heard this aural intrusion or it was just a bad omen for the ensuing performance I cannot say, but they did not really recover until nearly the intermission. Every note was played correctly, but lacked the nervous energy one expects from the playing of Beethoven. The rapport that would normally bind the musicians to each other and to the music was missing. The delicate dynamic balance between the players that shifts as the composer requests specific members of the group to rise above the others was off. The slow movements, including the “Ghost” movement, were certainly heartfelt and warmly played. But great chamber music, more so than any other musical genre, requires not just playing the notes accurately, even if it’s done with a superb technique. It also demands that each member of the group know exactly what every other member is thinking and playing. This is why, with some exceptions, the great chamber groups are those that have played together for decades, and have played the works on this program and other works from the standard chamber repertory countless times. To assume that a winning performance will be the result of simply putting great musicians together is as unlikely as it is to have exciting All-Star Baseball or Football Pro-Bowl games, where each player knows his role but has no idea how to play with his temporary teammates.


For whatever reason, in the final movement of Beethoven's Opus 70 No.2 the musicians dug in and realized an explosive wrap-up of the Beethoven part of the evening's program. I came back from the intermission with the hope for a better played Brahms and I was not disappointed.

The Brahms Trio was considerably more lively and energetic. The players complemented each other and fitted in as equal parts of the whole. This rich and exciting performance made the previously played Beethoven trios seem as if they were written by a minor composer. If an audience member had never heard of Beethoven or Brahms and was asked after the concert who was the greater genius, I doubt from this performance that anyone would have chosen Beethoven.


Why did the Brahms succeed where the Beethoven failed? This question goes to the ontological heart of each composer. Beethoven’s chamber music demands that the players fill in the invisible spaces between the notes. In Brahms every space is taken. There is so much more information in Brahms; his themes have a complexity and denseness not found in those of his predecessor. The music, of course, demands that each soloist be an integral part of the group, in touch with and responsive to each other. But each musical voice in Brahms is more independent and the music itself provides the connections between members whereas in Beethoven the instrumentalists need to make the connections themselves.


If the intent of this series is to demonstrate the clear passing down of Beethoven's mantle to Brahms, then in this aspect it succeeded. The awkward title of the series, "Manifest Legacy" (ringing in my ears as "Manifest Destiny"), implies that Beethoven's works were manifestly (clearly, obviously) inherited by Brahms. Brahms was doing everything he could to avoid writing Beethoven's "Tenth Symphony," but he couldn't prevent the symphonist in him from appearing in his chamber, vocal and orchestral works as well.

This series continues with four more concerts, from now until March 6th.

Stan Metzger

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