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 to 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.
Another most impressive discovery of Christian Steiner’s, pianist Gleb Ivanov, a twenty-eight-year-old M.A. from the Manhattan School of Music, played a stirring program of Haydn, Chopin, and Prokofiev at a private benefit concert for Mr. Steiner’s Tannery Pond Concerts. Here was a pianist of impeccable—really formidable—technique, powerful intelligence, and marked individuality, playing with a concentration that made the audience hang on every note, putting across his point of view with full conviction. And this point of view was most definitely worth hearing—and that is an understatement. Any musician who can play with such polish, grandeur, and intelligence has my deep respect.
The programming at Tannery Pond always surprises, straying as it does from four-square convention. Jennifer Frautschi, Eric Ruske, and Pedja Muzijevic each has an impressive international resume, and they chose a fascinating mix of Beethoven, Schoenberg, Liszt, Czerny, and Cage to prepare us for the great Brahms Trio.
For most in attendance at Tannery Pond, that beautiful barn-like space nestled in a Shaker village, tonight’s concert was a first exposure to Viardot’s music. American mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, known mostly for her Baroque and bel-canto performances, seemed the ideal evangelist to make the case for Pauline’s music, or, at least her considerable lyric gifts. Ms. Genaux, who is a beauty to behold, has a luscious and full tone, performing these works with great musical and emotional conviction, even when the compositions themselves do not live up to their lavish handling.
I was not the only member of the Tannery Pond audience who has been following Jeremy Denk’s career with some avidity. He played there a few years ago, accompanying Paula Robison (who preceded Denk this summer) with quite a different group of colleagues. This particular gentleman, however, had heard him elsewhere, in his general concert-going, and, like me, instantly beame a Denkist — or perhaps we should call ourselves Denkonians, to avoid confusion with that particularly odious and venal branch of the medical profession.
My entry into the fold occurred at the Liszt Festival at Bard College, when I heard Mr. Denk perform the Liszt B minor Sonata. (He teaches there.) This seemed to me at the time, although I’ve heard some important pianists perform the work, including some great Lisztian intellectuals, like Kentner and Brendel, to be a supreme statement of the work. (Yes, somehow — most likely due to Liszt’s own exceptional intelligence and the literary culture he had acquired — at least some of his music is intellectual music, although he worked very hard at developing quite a different persona in his earlier career.)
Music that is somehow outside the accepted parameters of classical music appears at the Tannery Pond Concerts once or twice every season. For example, in 2008, soprano Amy Burton and pianist John Musto presented a program of show tunes from Broadway and the Grands Boulevards. Or mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, whose singing of Vivaldi, Handel, and Rossini is so highly regarded in Europe and America, combined German Lieder with zarzuela numbers, an enthusiasm she acquired from her Mexican-born mother. Now, for Tannery’s 20th anniversary season, Music Director Christian Steiner has asked Paula Robison and her colleagues, Romero Lubambo and Cyro Baptista (both Brazilians who have settled in the United States) to return after a ten-year absence, to play the Brazilian music which has attracted a warmly enthusiastic following since the early 90’s when they first began playing together.
The Beethoven C-Sharp Minor alone can exhaust both listeners and performers in its athletic compass of emotional extremes. But the deeply tragic and valedictory Britten Quartet, the program’s true centerpiece, was infused with such poignancy and despair that the tranquility of Tannery Pond’s almost ethereal grounds, with their assuring Shaker buildings and yawning fields, offered little succor. The rarely heard Schumann quartet, while having its share of Biedermeir charm, also shared some spectral affinities with the Britten, and evoked, at times, the melancholy of Caspar David Friedrich’s dark and mysterious landscapes. However, two hours later, one could not have been more satisfied and impressed with a performance that transformed the darkness into light with the sheer force of musical intelligence and immaculate technique.
Over the past few years, my enthusiasm for the Tannery Pond Concerts has been no secret. Where else can you hear a unique combination of the most celebrated soloists and chamber groups together with handpicked young musicians of extraordinary promise? And in a handsome Shaker tannery from the early nineteenth century with glorious acoustics. All this thanks to its director, Christian Steiner…