Chamber Music/LA

Once again the crowd was large and, for the most part happy; Chamber Music/LA ended its fourth annual go-around in a blaze of popularity if not glory. The playing, at the Japan-America Theater on Sunday afternoon, was mostly (if not entirely) of de luxe quality. The music, alas, was not.
Mozart wrote few works that can be truly called dull, but the G-major Trio (K. 564) pushes strongly toward that epithet. Its opening melodic gambit is strained; the ensuing variations attempt to inflate a rather trivial theme; the final rondo, while pretty enough, seems to look back toward the blandness of rococo chamber music from earlier generations.
Much the same, I’m sorry to report, applies with equal candor to the Piano Quartet of Schumann (Opus 47). The work dates from 1842, and was composed almost simultaneously with the Opus 44 Piano Quintet. From the evidence, however, the Quintet apparently absorbed all of Schumann’s creative inspiration at the time; there was nothing left for the Quartet.
The music strains and gesticulates, but there is little profile in any of its ideas. Alongside the glorious, assertive, breathless energy of the Quintet, this piece is a washout. Yet it is often played; this was the second performance I’ve heard in recent weeks. Schumann is, after all, a name to contend with, and for some players this seems reason enough to keep even his inferior scores alive.
Jerome Lowenthal and his piano were the illuminating spirits in both these works. A modest, smiling East Coaster whose repertory is vast and whose good deeds are many, Lowenthal was one of the founding spirits of this festival and has recorded with several of its stalwart players. Along with Yukiko Kamei and Nathaniel Rosen in the Mozart, and Christiaan Bor, Marcus Thompson and Jeffrey Solow in the Schumann, he did what he could for the pallid, flagging music, and it was almost enough. I especially liked the antic, playful rubato he brought to parts of the Schumann.
Finally came the Brahms B-flat Sextet, with all its groaning, heaving, gesturesome emptiness. Brahms, the story runs, destroyed all his music he thought unworthy; if this piece was granted survival the mind boggles at what the rejects must be like. At its worst, the piece stands as a denial of the whole concept of chamber music: its players do not partake in a democracy of performers, but combine their sounds into a thick, formless murk.
I survived two movements; more would have been a sacrifice far beyond duty’s call. The acidulous, intrusive tone of Paul Rosenthal’s violin didn’t help matters much. There is an old recording, with Jascha Heifetz taking on the first violin part, where he too played in this manner. That wasn’t chamber music, either. ]EP

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