Jacques-Louis Monod and Chamber Ensemble
at Sanders last night
Every pianist, violinist and 'cellist with a yen for chamber music has at one time or another chugged through the Schubert Piano Trio No. 1 in B-flat. It's hazards of technique and intonation are notorious, but somehow the beauty of the work transcends the most adverse of circumstances and comes through in spite of wrong notes, shaky ensemble, and sick intervals.
This was somewhat the case at Sanders last night as planist Robert Helps, violinist Isadore Cohen and 'cellist Charles McCracken teamed up to perform the well-known and beloved work. By professional strandards, it was a fairly sloppy performance. The strings, especially the 'cello, suffered periodic spates of bad intonation; phrasing in the piano seemed to lack contour and direction; and on the whole the three sounded as if they had not much time to play together.
Curiously enough, however, the Schubert was one of the most enjoyable performances I have heard all summer. The three musicians had relinquished their white jackets in deference to the heat, and the sight of Schubert in shirtsleeves must have recalled many a living-room zilch session to a large part of the audience. The performance itself was the epitome of spontaneity. As such it was in direct contrast to the highly premeditated and overdone performances that have dominated the rest of the concert series. Here finally were three musicians blithely making music--and enjoying it, damn it!
The final work of the concert, and thus the final work of the entire Monday night series, was Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire Op 21, (1912). Set to rather morbid poetry by Albert Giraud, the work exerted a curious kind of fascination on the audience--except those Philistines who apparently could not take it and left in the middle. The work's success owes in no small part to the performers, particularly conductor Jacques-Louis Monod, who made eminent sense out of music that is all too easily incomprehensible, and "narrator" Bethany Beardslee whose negotiation of all the weirdities of Schoenberg's technique of Sprechstimme must have been one of the most chilling and engage of all time. She seemed remarkably at case in this unlikely blend of speech, intonation and song, and hers is the supreme achievement of having made dramatic and musical sense out of a style that is usually presented as a musical oddity. The chamber ensemble of the three Schubertians angmented by clarinetist Charles Russo and flutist John Solomon produced admirably the impressionistic gamut of colorings and moods called for by the composer.
As icing on the cake, Pierrot was not necessarily the right flavor (anise), but take heart: there are two more concerts to come. The Cantabrigia Orchestra has its ambitious debut Thursday night, followed by the Summer School Chorus' splash the following week. Then it will be time to talk of cabbages and lings.