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Chamber music opener a memorable night

Cho-Liang Lin
South Florida Classical Review

Chamber music is often defined as music among friends, which generally refers to the performers. That description took on a different, larger context with the season-opening concert of Friends of Chamber Music of Miami, which presented the piano quintets of Schumann and Brahms. Schumann was a close and influential mentor to the young Brahms who also enjoyed a lifelong friendship with Schumann’s widow Clara, which profoundly influenced his life and music.

FOCM president Julian Kreeger corralled an impressive all-star lineup of musical firepower for this program: violinists Cho Liang Lin and Adele Anthony, violist Roberto Diaz, cellist William De Rosa and pianist Joseph Kalichstein. The event, held Monday night at Gusman Concert Hall, was a co-presentation with Festival Miami.

Schumann’s Piano Quintet was written in 1842, his annus mirabilis chamber-music year, in which he completed three string quartets, the Piano Quartet, and Piano Quintet.

The rush of inspiration and confident vitality is evident throughout in Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E flat Major, the first in the form to achieve artistic success and still one of the finest of the genre. The writing is deftly deployed among all five players, with key expressive contrasts and extraordinary lyrical richness.  A hearty, vigorous expression predominates, and even the second movement’s funeral march never quite veers into tragedy, with a first trio that is one of Schumann’s most indelible inspirations.

Even though these five musicians had not played together before as an ensemble, there was clear musical empathy and a sense of fully engaged  partnership, which contributing to an idiomatic, impassioned performance in touch with Schumann’s vitality and flowing lyricism.  

In addition to providing brief, charming verbal notes, Kalishstein took the pivotal role in the proceedings with fiery keyboard work, well balanced by Lin’s purity of tone and seamless articulation, and Roberto Diaz’s elegance.

Unlike the Schumann work, Brahms’ Piano Quintet went thru a characteristically tortuous gestation from string quintet to sonata for two pianos, and finally, with Clara Schumann’s urging, its final form.

Brahms’ Piano Quintet is an expansive work, spanning three-quarters of an hour, and sprawling in its breadth and thematic richness, with a Schumann-esque Andante, biting scherzo and large-scale finale that moves from brooding gloom to frenzied exultation.

Gleaming and responsive as the Schumann performance was, the Brahms was finer still. Perhaps Adele Anthony seemed a bit reticent compared to her high-powered colleagues, and Kalichstein’s unbridled attacks sometimes sacrificed accuracy. But these are minor quibbles and this galvanic performance—weighty in texture and grand in scale—was tackled with full-tilt commitment by the entire ensemble.

Led by Lin, the delicacy of the string playing conveyed the plaintive folk-like expression of the slow movement. With Kalichstein primus inter pares, all five musicians were at their finest in the scherzo, putting across the march theme’s forceful swagger, and bringing explosive bravura to the finale, culminating in a thrilling coda.

Friends of Chamber Music’s next performance isn’t until January but the glow from this memorable evening should keep audience members satisfied till then.