The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall – The Magic of Schubert


Adagio & Rondo concertante in F, D487

Allegro in A-minor, D947 (Lebensstürme)

Fantasy in C, D934

Piano Trio in B-flat, D898

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center [Alessio Bax, Gloria Chien & Wu Han (pianos), Benjamin Beilman (violin), Paul Neubauer (viola) & David Requiro (cello]

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 29 January, 2023
Venue: Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

For this Schubert program, two seasoned chamber music artists – Wu Han and Paul Neubauer – teamed up with four recent alumni of the Society’s Program for extraordinary emerging artists. 

Written for piano, violin, viola and cello – with the piano as the dominant instrument – the Adagio and Rondo concertante is less balanced than a string quartet and more like a scaled-down piano concerto. The piece is distinguished more by its lovely melodic writing than by the emotional depths present in Schubert’s later work. A relatively short piece, it begins with a brief Adagio that opens with two piano chords, and for the remainder of the section the piano plays against the violin and viola. The extraordinarily supple playing of the four musicians – Gloria Chien on piano – was immediately apparent. The much longer and faster, and delightful, Rondo follows without a break and here the rippling piano part is even more prevalent.

Next came the A-minor Allegro (Lebenssturme; Life’s Storms), a passionate work that displays Schubert’s mastery at writing for piano/four-hands. Composed in 1828, the last year of his life, it’s a dramatic work, if not particularly stormy. It may have been intended as the first movement of a sonata. Alessio Bax and Wu Han offered a graceful, finely-honed and highly enjoyable traversal, nicely highlighting all the contrasting moods.

The Fantasy in C is the most important among the very small group of pieces that Schubert composed for violin. Written hastily as a display vehicle for the young Czech virtuoso Joseph Slavik (whom Chopin reportedly dubbed ‘the second Paganini’) and a pianist friend, Carl Maria von Bocklet, the work was less than well received at its debut, perhaps due to its originality and harmonic daring. Over time it has gained more respect, but it remains only intermittently performed. One reason for this may be its difficulty and the unusually wide range of emotional expression it demands.  Arranged in seven continuous sections, it begins with murmuring piano figurations underpinning a lyrical melody on the violin leading into a quick, robustly rhythmic episode, tinged with Hungarian exoticism. The centerpiece is a set of variations on the composer’s 1822 song setting of Friedrich Rückert’s poem ‘Sei mir gegrüsst!’ (I greet you!). Benjamin Beilman and Chien delivered a perfectly balanced, intimate, and completely captivating rendition.

Bax, Beilman and David Requiro gave a brilliant performance of the B-flat Trio, full of impetus and with great subtlety of detail. The three set off into the first movement with an engaging exuberance and then found an attractive lightness for the opening of the exquisite Andante. After the jovial Scherzo there was a similar delicacy of touch in the Finale. This was a performance full of the charm which informed Schubert’s inspiration.

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