Touch of New-Music Vigor for Slate of Romantic Works

12.18.08
Jennifer Koh
The New York Times

The 92nd Street Y's chamber music series began as an East Side echo of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and it has long seemed a paler, or at least homier, version of Lincoln Center's. But in important ways Chamber Music at the Y has maintained the Chamber Music Society's original spirit better than the society has.

The society began as a recombinant troupe of "artist members" - the violinist Jaime Laredo, who now directs the Y series, was one - but these days its roster is regularly juggled and expanded, and it sometimes bypasses its members in favor of outside ensembles. At the Y Mr. Laredo quickly established the trio in which he performs, with the pianist Joseph Kalichstein and the cellist Sharon Robinson (to whom Mr. Laredo is married), as the core ensemble. Members of the trio perform at every concert, with guest players expanding the instrumental palette and keeping the repertory varied.

On Tuesday evening the adventurous young violinist Jennifer Koh and the pianist Benjamin Hochman joined Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson for a program that skirted the edges of the standard repertory while never quite leaving the Romantic (or in one case, neo-Romantic) mainstream. If there was one disappointment it was that Ms. Koh, an eloquent interpreter of contemporary music, had a narrower purview here.

She did, however, apply the vigor and freshness of her new-music side to the pieces at hand, most notably Martinu's "Three Madrigals" (1947), an appealingly consonant, occasionally folksy set of duos for violin and viola, with Mr. Laredo playing viola. There isn't much madrigal-like about these pieces, Martinu's fascination with Renaissance music notwithstanding. The fast outer movements sound rooted in Czech dances and surround an Andante that begins with a brooding trill on both instruments and grows into a sweetly alluring dialogue.

Mr. Hochman collaborated with Ms. Robinson on Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata, a work that turns up infrequently in cello recitals, undoubtedly because Rachmaninoff gave all the best music to the pianist. The performers did not pretend otherwise: the piano lid was open, and although Ms. Robinson played the cello lines with a soulful expansiveness, it was impossible to keep the ear from wandering to Mr. Hochman's driven, clear-textured account of the piano part.

All four musicians, with Mr. Laredo still playing viola, closed the program with an energetic, shapely reading of Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 2