Schubert and Schnittke, a Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Concert

03.23.15
Benjamin Beilman
New York Times

Schubert and Schnittke: Do they share anything more than alliteration? That was the question asked by the pianist Juho Pohjonen, the violinist Benjamin Beilman and the cellist Jan Vogler during a Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center concert at Alice Tully Hall on Friday.

The link is deeper than might be imagined. Sure, Alfred Schnittke died in 1998, two centuries after Schubert was born in 1797, and post-Stalinist Moscow, where Schnittke came to maturity, was rather different from imperial Austria. But Schnittke’s musical education began in Vienna, where his father worked from 1946 to ’48. It was the Mozart and Schubert he heard there that he “kept in mind as a reference point in terms of taste, manner and style,” his biographer Alexander Ivashkin argued, however far he later pushed his experimental polystylism.

So Schnittke might partly be heard as working within an Austro-Germanic tradition dating back beyond Schubert. In Schnittke’s Cello Sonata No. 1 (1978), Mr. Vogler pushed the expressive envelope to extremes, sullen and heartfelt in the outer movements, furious in the constant motion of the second, all with an intensity that Mr. Pohjonen struggled to match.

A similar volatility marked the performances of the two Schubert works on the program. I’ve never found the Fantasy in C for violin and piano (D. 934, 1827) particularly cohesive, but Mr. Beilman’s endlessly variable approach to phrasing and sonority — radiantly pure at one moment, pugnacious the next — made it hypnotic, even if Mr. Pohjonen was less than responsive in support.