Getting down to business, Palladium shows its star power

01.31.11
Inon Barnatan
Indianapolis Star

The Palladium began its history as a concert hall Sunday afternoon with a display of top-flight American artists in chamber music.

With Saturday night's gala opening receding in a warm glow, it was as if the 1,600-seat concert hall got to work proving it deserves all of the hoopla -- and the city of Carmel's considerable investment of time and money in the Palladium and the Center for the Performing Arts.

The program was divided between the Miro Quartet, joined by cellist Lynn Harrell to play Schubert, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, featuring one of its artistic directors, Wu Han, at the piano for some Gershwin and Brahms.

As a wonderful opening gesture to the center's artistic director, Michael Feinstein, and his devotion to the Great American Songbook, Wu Han was joined at the keyboard by Lincoln Center colleague Inon Barnatan for the four-hands version of "Rhapsody in Blue."

The performance was both intense and devil-may-care, as the two players enjoyed the work's teasing figuration, bluesy indulgences and the gift that Gershwin shows for making a unified statement out of several well-characterized episodes, crowned by the big, yearning tune everyone waits for whenever "Rhapsody in Blue" is performed.

The piano sounded bright and urgent in this acoustical environment; Gershwin's accents and sprightly rhythms flexed their muscles attractively.

When violinist Arnaud Sussman, violist Mark Holloway and cellist Andreas Brantelid joined Wu Han for Brahms' Piano Quartet in G minor, what beguiled the ear most was the warmth of the string sound, the players' clarity at all dynamic levels and even hints of the friction between bow and string. Though the performance was well-coordinated and the piano placed right behind the string players, it sounded a little distant and slightly boomy.

So well-turned was the delicate, fleet conclusion of the second movement that it drew a burst of applause. This could have been taken for a spontaneous display of delight, except it got to be a habit for the rest of the concert.

After intermission came an extensive opportunity to revel in expertly controlled string sound, with concert star Lynn Harrell fitting in perfectly with the Miro Quartet in Schubert's Cello Quintet in C major.

I loved the American open- horizon feel of the first movement. Vienna could wait till the finale, when a little schmaltz was judiciously applied.

This was a performance of patience and magnanimity, animated when it had to be but chiefly attentive to Schubert's leisurely way of building big statements -- just the right sort for a splendid new concert hall.