Tannery Pond Concerts
Sat., May 28th at 6 pm
Amerigo Trio (Glenn Dicterow, violin, Karen Dreyfus, viola, Inbal Segev, cello) with guest: Alon Goldstein, piano
Claude Debussy, Sonata for violin and piano in G minor
Ernst von Dohnányi, Serenade in C major, Op. 10
Johannes Brahms, Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25
This evening at Tannery Pond Concerts was outstanding because it was so fully awake. None of the musicians showed the least inclination to rely on traditional formulae, and performances like this can work wonders for any kind of concert-goer, the casual drop-in, as much as the dedicated music-lover, who has become a little too comfortable with traditional playing. It all culminated in an unforgettable reading of Brahms’ much-loved Piano Quartet in G Minor, surely one of its greatest hours.
At the core of the experience was the Amerigo Trio, founded only two years ago, in the summer of 2009, by Glenn Dicterow, violin, Karen Dreyfus, viola, and Inbal Segev, cello, after the success of their collaboration at the Bowdoin International Chamber Music Festival. None of these musicians are strangers at Tannery, above all Glenn Dicterow, who, although best known as the concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic—one of the great old-school concertmasters, who, like Joseph Silverstein, is a preeminent soloist—is equally dedicated to chamber music. Inbal Segev also made quite an impression at Tannery a few years ago in a recital with pianist Benjamin Hochman. As a group, Dicterow, his wife Karen Dreyfus, and Segev—all musicians with strong personalities of their own—have, in only two years, developed an amazing technical precision as a group, as well as the kind of ensemble and tonal coherence that clearly owes a lot to Mr. Dicterow’s unique skills as a concertmaster. None of them ever seemed inhibited in the least, but as as ensemble they produced a rich, buttery sound together that can only have come from a sense of ensemble that goes beyond impeccable intonation to the most sophisticated understanding of how stringed instruments make sounds together. At first encounter, it may seem odd that they named themselves after an explorer rather than a dead composer, musician, or luthier, but its amply borne out in the freshness of their playing.
In this concert, they were joined in two of the three pieces by the Israeli pianist, Alon Goldstein, already a great favorite at Tannery, whose extraordinary originality and intelligence, have already been discussed in the Review. His independent spirit brought a further dimension to the evening, as sensitively as he responded to his fellow musicians’ intentions, individually and as a group. His approach to the Debussy sonata, which he played with Mr. Dicterow, and to the Brahms, with the entire group, was quite different. The Brahms seemed to offer him personally more scope for expression, but he entered fully into the spirit of the Debussy, resulting in a robust and honest reading that was entirely free of the any of the Debussian clichés which can still haunt performances of his music. Mr. Goldstein was sparing with the pedal, and both he and Mr. Dicterow played with just the right degree of weight, articulating phrases cleanly, and avoiding any sense of a shapeless perpetuum mobile. At the end one had the impression of an unpretentious, direct, thoroughly satisfying reading of the sonata.
Dohnányi’s Serenade in C major for three strings brought the Amerigo Trio to the fore. An elegant, not terribly challenging work that, while firmly planted in the modern, allows for frequent gusts of post-romanticism. One has the feeling of conversing over champagne with a mature Hungarian gentleman of particular refinement, dressed in old, but impeccably maintained clothing, which has nonetheless retained decades of some long-forgotten scent and stale tobacco of the very best quality. Again the players’ clean articulation and perfect balance served them well, and it was here that they could show their sensitivity to individual and combined color as well as their independent temperaments, all working within the magnetism of Dicterow’s lodestar. This particular balance of ensemble and personal expression struck me as quite unique—notably different from the Marlboro style, for example, which leans towards the individual. The beauty and cohesive variety of their sound was wondrous, and I feel impatient to hear them again.
The G minor Piano Quartet is one of Brahms’ most familiar chamber works—all too-well-known today through Arnold Schoenberg’s ironically flashy orchestral adaptation of 1937—a separate work in its own right. (This is not the place to ponder Brahms’ attitudes about the gypsy music he so often composed, most expansively in the final rondo of this work, and what Schoenberg’s reception of it might have been.) The Amerigo Trio and Alon Goldstein gave a reading that was nicely balanced between the “cool,” ensemble-orienting approach of some European groups and the “hot” Marlboro-inspired manner. This was by no means placid moderation, however. I’ve already explained how the trio arrives at its blending of equals. Goldstein is a pianist with an almost freakish range of expression. He can produce pppp of the greatest delicacy all the way down to the threshold of audibility, and he can build up to the most forceful, even violent climaxes—all in a thoroughly coherent and musical fashion. On the whole, however, he tends towards the “hot” end of things, giving his playing a volcanic quality, all the more engrossing, because his intellect is in charge throughout, providing firm musical guidance for the warm feeling he has ready access to. His sensitivity to the balance and flow of the string players kept the performance away from the volatility that makes his solo performances so exciting, but some of the knottiness of his treatment of dissonant chords introduced some unexpected revelations. Brahms, in creating the process of structurally important progressions, like Mozart and Beethoven before him, used dissonant chords to heighten the tension. Goldstein was really brilliant in making the most of these, both shocking our ears into wakefulness and adding color and texture to the mix. Above all the quartet had its due shape and weight in this performance, with no rushing, and a fine sense of the integration of Brahms’ syncopations and pauses with the flow and structure of each movement. Above all in the final movement, Alon Goldstein and the Trio energetically traded of the role of ballast, in holding back the forward rush and grounding the flow. This movement and the entire work came across in its proper scale, which is really quite substantial, without a trace of inflation or gypsy kitsch.