CLOSE ENCOUNTERS LEADER HANANI FOLLOWS THE LIEDER
By Lawrence Budmen
The German art song or "lieder" has been a fountainhead of inspiration for large scale instrumental works. Often a simple theme or musical idea has been expanded by composers into major orchestral or chamber music scores. Among the best known examples of this musical metamorphosis are Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" String Quartet and "Trout Quintet".
Johannes Brahms' moody "Regenlied", Opus 59, No. 3 became the basis of the final movement - Allegro con moderato - of the "Violin Sonata in G Major", Opus 78. That richly romantic sonata was the centerpiece of the Close Encounters With Music Concert "Follow the Lieder" on April 14, 2002 at the Danielson Gallery of the Biltmore Hotel. Violinist Peter Zazofsky and pianist Michele Levin gave this music a performance that was memorable. Zazofsky's singing tome and Levin's consummate keyboard mastery brought forth all of the dark, brooding lyricism that Brahms poured into this gem of the chamber music repertoire. Zazofsky and Levin gave the music passion, but also a wonderfully spacious repose. The concluding movement was like a musical tornado - inexorable in its depth and sweep. This was great Brahms playing!
Beethoven adapted an operatic aria from "L'Amor Marinaro" by a highly insignificant composer Joseph Wiegl for the concluding section of his "Trio in B-Flat Major", Opus 11. In this early work, Beethoven illustrated how a mediocre melody can become a brilliant showpiece in the hands of a great composer. The melody of the Adagio in this trio is one of Beethoven's most inspired creations. The sophistication of the interplay between violin, cello and piano in this score shows Beethoven mastery of chamber music writing even at this early stage of his compositional career.
For this performance, Levin and Zazofsky were joined by cellist Yehuda Hanani, artistic director of the Close Encounters series. Earlier in the season, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson trio played this work as part of their complete cycle of Beethoven piano trios. The Beaux Arts Trio performed the beautiful second movement as an encore at their recent Miami concert. In many ways Levin, Zazofsky and Hanani gave the best performance of the three. While they lacked the finely chiseled perfection of a group that plays together on a regular basis, their performance had a warmth and vivacious charm that only comes when outstanding musicians come together for an intimate chamber music session. It was as if we were privileged to be present at their private musical get together - so beautiful was their embrace of Beethoven's lyrical line.
Hanani and Levin also gave a deft performance of Paul Hindemith's "A Frog He Went A-Courting - Variations on an Old English Nursery Song", a surprisingly witty score from a very serious composer.
Hanani fared less well in Beethoven's "Seven Variations on a Theme from Mozart's Magic Flute". Despite his musicality and fine attention to tonal nuances, there was strain in the upper reaches of the cello. The fast section found Hanani struggling with the rapid passagework.
Lucille Beer was the concert's vocal soloist. It was sad to hear her once opulent mezzo-soprano voice in such poor condition. In the Brahms lieder and the Mozart "Magic Flute" aria, there was strain at the top of her range and a break in her vocal register that did not sound ingratiating. In the Wiegl aria, her Marilyn Horne impersonation was hilarious.
Throughout the afternoon, Hanani's commentary was informative and illuminating. The entire concert was musically educational and provided great performances of Brahms and Beethoven masterpieces.