Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – Leonard Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles – Escher Quartet plays Ives & Webern

String Quartet No.1 (From the Salvation Army)
Arias and Barcarolles
Langsamer Satz
Liebeslieder Walzer, Op.52

Escher String Quartet [Adam Barnett-Hart & Danbi Um (violins), Pierre Lapointe (viola) & Brook Speltz (cello)]

Susanna Phillips (soprano), Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor) & Nathan Gunn (baritone), with Sebastian Knauer & Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 29 October, 2017
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic on tour at the Blossom Music Center, Cleveland, 1986. (Music Division)Photograph: U.S. Library of CongressThe Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center helped mark Leonard Bernstein’s forthcoming centenary – he was born on 25 August 2018. The title of Arias and Barcarolles (1988) comes from a remark made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bernstein at the White House: “I like music with a theme, not all them arias and barcarolles.” Bernstein’s eight settings – for mezzo-soprano, baritone and piano/four-hands – found Tamara Mumford and Nathan Gunn humorous and touching in ‘Love Duet’ (how lovers’ attitudes can both mesh and clash) and also in ‘Mr. and Mrs. Webb Say Goodnight’, in which they are kept awake by their children, whose unruly vocalizations come from the pianists, who also gave a dynamic account of the score. Mumford offered the amusing ‘Little Smary’ (with Anne-Marie McDermott) and the delicate ‘Greeting’ (Sebastian Knauer), the latter adapted from a song written by Bernstein in 1955 when his son was born. Gunn excelled in the off-kilter ‘The Love of My Life’ and the Klezmer-influenced ‘Oyf Mayn Khas’neh’ (At My Wedding), and in ‘Nachspiel’ (Postlude) the singers hum along to the piano’s gentle music.

Susanna Phillips and Nicholas Phan joined for a delightful reading of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Walzer. Phillips gave a lovely account of ‘Wohl schön bewandt war es vorehe’ and harmonized beautifully with Mumford in duets. Phan was quite impressive in ‘Nicht wandle, mein Licht, dort aussen’, and together with Gunn. Phan more than held his own alongside the three others, each a regular at the Met. Best of all were the numbers in which the voices merged, set off perfectly by the pianists.

The works from the Escher Quartet date from their composers’ youthful days. Charles Ives’s First String Quartet (1900) has its origins in music created while he was at Yale; he would rework the fugal first movement into his visionary Fourth Symphony. ‘From the Salvation Army’ is based on hymn-tunes familiar to Ives, a church organist, and barely hints at the complexities that would characterize his later compositions. The Escher members gave a fine performance, Brook Speltz’s cello leading the way. Anton Webern composed Langsamer Satz in 1905 at age twenty-two, soon after beginning studies with Schoenberg. This tonal piece was played with rapturous intensity and well-judged balance. This recital was Danbi Um’s debut with the Escher Quartet, who assimilated into the group as if she had been there for years.

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