The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Make Their Central Park Debut
You might think that the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center would have played the summer concert series at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park at some point in the past 44 years, but it actually never happened until Thursday night. Which, when you think about it, isn’t so surprising. Lincoln Center being their home, the logical destination for them for summer concerts is out back in Damrosch Park. This was like the Mets making a visit to Yankee Stadium. How did they fare off their home turf? It would be nice to say they came to conquer; a more fair assessment would be that they met the situation halfway, through no fault of their own or the organizers of the Naumburg concerts, who do a fantastic job. The sound was amplified and mixed well and many people in the crowd got to take home a free t-shirt. What possibly could have gone wrong?
In the year 2013 it has become more than obvious that outdoor concerts in New York in the summer may soon become a thing of the past: combine budget cuts in every conceivable area with the effects of global warming and then do the math. Cellist David Finckel, violinist Sean Lee, violist Daniel Phillips and flutist Tara Helen O’Connor typically play the comfortable, sonically excellent, air-conditioned Alice Tully Hall when they’re not on the road. This time out, they had nasty humidity and heat to make their job difficult and impact their ability to stay in tune. They opened with Mozart’s Quartet in D for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello, K285 and then followed with Beethoven’s Serenade in D for Flute, Violin and Viola, Op. 25. Both pieces, the Mozart especially, are the kind of works that composers of their era wrote to pay the bills: if not for the applause between the two, it would have been hard to tell when the former ended and the latter began. Whether the endless volleys of call-and-response, or simply the heat, lent an air of sluggishness, is open to debate: the concert will air in its entirety on WQXR on September 2; you can listen at ciento y cinco punto nueve (105.9 FM used to be the salsa romantica station) or at WQXR.org and be the judge.
But serendipitously, the Beethoven picked up with a lively folk dance just as the sun set and a cool calm settled over Central Park, and suddenly the musicians seemed at home, through the dynamically shifting three final movements, ending on a drolly energetic, teasing note with a series of classic Beethovenesque endings. Then pianist Wu Han joined the full ensemble and they played Dvorak’s Quintet in A Major, B. 155, Op. 81. You probably know this piece even if you don’t think you do: it’s a staple of film scores from the 40s and 50s, especially the sad, slow second movement, and Han went deep into lingering cavatina mode for that. As the piece went on, helicopters circled and circled – you would have thought that Osama Bin Laden and Dick Cheney were canoodling in a nearby gully. Whatever the copters were looking for, they didn’t find, in many, many passes overhead. When the music was audible, it was excellent, particularly Dvorak’s long, expansively cinematic first movement, the robust scherzo of the third and the bittersweet romp out with the fourth. Anyone who thinks that Dvorak is all about lush optimism should hear what this crew did with it. This was it for the Naumburg concerts for 2013. The CMSLC will be back at Alice Tully Hall with all kinds of enticing programs in the weeks ahead.
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