The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall – Dvořák, Corigliano, Farrenc & Beethoven

Nocturne for Two Violins, Viola, Cello and Double Bass, Op.40
Soliloquy for Clarinet and String Quartet
Quintet in A minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello and Double Bass, Op.30
Quintet in C for Two Violins, Two Violas and Cello, Op.29

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center [Gilles Vonsattel, (piano), Francisco Fullana & Arnaud Sussmann (violins), Yura Lee & Matthew Lipman (violas), Nicholas Canellakis (cello), Anthony Manzo (double bass) & David Shifrin (clarinet)]

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 19 November, 2023
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

This rich and inventive program, billed ‘Quintet Odyssey’, offered four quintets, each with different instrumentation – none of them the familiar piano quintet formation. Unavoidably late, I missed the seven-minute-long Nocturne by Dvořák. Luckily, I arrived in time for Corigliano’s slightly longer (nine minutes) Soliloquy. Essentially Romantic in style, the bleak and beautiful work is a chamber adaptation of the slow second movement of his 1977 Clarinet Concerto, an elegy for his father who was concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic from 1943 to 1966.

Conceived as a duet, the piece is, in the composer’s words, ‘an extended dialogue for clarinet and violin.’ Opening with a high-pitched, hauntingly ethereal solo, Francisco Fullana’s delicately poised violin set the scene. Soon the other strings entered, their graceful lines supporting the mournful mood. The music became its most heartrending when David Schifrin – the clarinettist who commissioned and premiered the work – joined in, spinning subtly nuanced phrases around the strings and alternating tonalities with the first violin. Devoid of an emotional climax, Corigliano’s poignant score is largely static – but never bland. In this exquisitely realized performance it came across as stylistically correct and deeply moving. 

Louise Farrenc, a French contemporary of Mendelssohn and Schumann, is a preeminent figure in the ongoing rediscovery of history’s female composers. A prominent pianist and composer, she was appointed Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory in 1842, the only woman appointed to that faculty in the 19th century. Dating from 1839, her enchanting Piano Quintet in A minor is scored for the somewhat unusual combination of piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass (the same as Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet). The music echoes several styles predominant in mid-19th century Europe, especially the virtuosic piano writing of Johann Nepomuk Hummel, the Austrian composer who was one of Farrenc’s teachers.

The CMS players delivered a first-rate performance, with Gilles Vonsattel bringing out all the virtuosic aspects of the keyboard writing. He easily handled the technical and expressive challenges, particularly in the opening Allegro, and most effectively balanced the keyboard’s many elaborately ornamented lines with the rich, melancholic string parts in the ecstatic Finale. All three upper string players enjoyed some passages of solo prominence in the second movement Adagio, which opened with Nicholas Canellakis’s expressive cello before Matthew Lipman’s warm viola came to the foreground, followed by violinist Arnaud Sussmann’s resonant bowing. Meanwhile double bassist Anthony Manzo richly sustained the lowest part of the harmony.  The fresh and transparent playing of all five musicians elicited echoes of Mendelssohn’s fairy music in the quicksilver Scherzo.  Overall, the performance was remarkably elegant and well-balanced.

The program concluded with a pliant, brilliantly realized rendition of Beethoven’s String Quintet in C, a relatively rare concert item and the composer’s only full-scale original work in that genre. All five players – Arnaud Sussmann, Francisco Fullana, Yura Lee, Matthew Lipman, and Nicholas Canellakis – were alert to the affability of the spacious Allegro moderato opening, traversing its numerous twists with sizable tensile strength, and to the voluptuousness in the Italianate lines of the noble and lyrical Adagio that followed. Two brief movements, an energetic scherzo and a dramatic finale with insistent tremolo, concluded the concert in colourful style.

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