McDermott lifts Chamber Music Society’s Spanish-themed evening at Wolf Trap

Sat Nov 13, 2021 at 11:44 am

Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott performed in the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center concert Friday night at Wolf Trap.

The mission of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is to program great music, often organized around noteworthy themes. The broad roster of performers available makes it easier to bring pieces for unusual combinations out of their secluded corners. During Wu Han’s tenure as artistic advisor, Wolf Trap has presented CMS periodically, most recently with a Spanish-themed concert Friday night in the Barns.

The String Quintet in E Major by Luigi Boccherini opened the evening. Composed during the Italian composer’s final decades in Madrid, the piece has an inexplicably famous Menuetto movement, but there is little about it that seems particularly Spanish. Violinists Paul Huang and Danbi Um traded phrases expressively with violist Paul Neubauer in the first movement. Balances were ideal, even in the perilously high double-cello passages played masterfully by Nicholas Canellakis and Clive Greensmith.

The cellists struggled with the even more stratospheric writing in the faster second movement. Huang sang demurely in the over-familiar third movement, accompanied by delicate pizzicati, with a charming trio marked by jaunty detached articulation. Other than that famous movement, though, the piece amounted to a lot of ornate noodling, standing out for its blandness from the rest of the program.

Huang’s throaty tone on the G string marked the moody first movement of Joaquín Turina’s Piano Quartet in A Minor. Neubauer and Kanellakis, on viola and cello, matched him in a fiery rubato, supported subtly by Wu Qian with buzzing trills at the piano. The four musicians gave a quick, unpredictable spirit to the middle movement, making the most of the folk-influenced characteristics of the piece. Huang tackled the slow introduction to the finale with exotic flair, answered in a searing unison with the other strings.

Baritone Will Liverman provided two glimpses of Spanish folk music from composers of different nationalities. His voice sounded best in Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, especially in the last two songs. Liverman sang with urgent power in the intense prayer to the virgin of “Chanson epique,” with an angelic “Amen” conclusion. He also caroused hilariously, complete with drunken staggering, in the “Chanson à boire.” Pianist Wu Qian underplayed the keyboard part, which could have provided stronger ballast in the lopsided “Chanson romanesque.”

Liverman seemed either off his game or under the weather in Shostakovich’s curious Spanish Songs, coughing a bit and clearing his throat a number of times. The juxtaposition of actual Spanish melodies and Russian texts was odd, but Liverman made his way convincingly through this complex thicket.

No translations were provided for either of the song sets, an unfortunate oversight which limited listeners’ enjoyment. When during the third song an audience member’s cell phone loudly broadcast what sounded like a television show for the better part of a minute, it was a credit to the professionalism of the performers that they were able to continue.

Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott brought some welcome solo bravura,  amping up the excitement level in the last two showpieces. She hammered the keyboard in the spicy Piano Trio in C Major by Gaspar Cassadó, pushing the romantic fervor of the piece a bit over the top. McDermott’s exploits in the second movement, a guitar-like accompaniment with many trills, pushed the violin of Danbi Um into some unpleasant harshness. She and cellist Clive Greensmith ignited in the rapid-fire finale, the most pleasing movement.

Huang and Um made a scintillating duo in the final work, the dazzlingly virtuosic Navarra by Pablo de Sarasate, which also concluded their 2020 concert together at Wolf Trap. Playing from memory, the two violinists moved in flawless synchronization, an effortless stream of dizzying notes in perfectly tuned parallel thirds and sixths.

None of the many challenges—mixed pizzicato with bowing, staccato passages high on the E string, flute-like harmonics, athletic spiccato—daunted either performer. With powerful support by McDermott at the piano, the performance was like a three-ring musical circus.

Wolf Trap presents the all-male chamber choir Cantus in a program of Christmas music classical and popular 7:30 p.m. December 3.; 703-255-1868

Leave a Comment


 Subscribe via RSS