String Quartets, Orion Quartet
Works for Solo Piano, P. Serkin, J. Biss, J. Denk, M. Levinson
Every second Sunday afternoon of the month the Smithsonian American Art Museum hosts a free concert in their basement auditorium. This month’s program featured the Left Bank Quartet and pianist Naoko Takao in chamber works of Leon Kirchner (1919-2009), Beethoven, and Schönberg. Though the modern McEvoy Auditorium lacks the air of the historic Greek revival building’s soaring, glass-roofed atrium and halls, there is definitely not justification for using amplification at an indoor concert of classical music (Washington National Cathedral being an exception). The amplification compromised a finely prepared program.
American composer Leon Kirchner’s late String Quartet No. 4, just premiered in 2006, was rather plain, yet purposeful. Just a single movement, its balance and consistent drive easily engage the listener, putting him into a unique musical zone, however tonal it may be. Violinists David Salness and Sally McLain, violist Katherine Murdock, and celling Evelyn Elsing approached the work with masterful fluency and a high-Romantic flexibility in tempo and spirit. The work ends abruptly after a build-up of complexity. Sharp releases reverberated as electronic feedback through the speakers housed in the auditorium’s low ceiling.
The pearly playing of pianist Naoko Takao in Beethoven’s Trio in E♭ Major (op. 70, no. 2) made quick flourishes resemble soft ornaments, and rhetorical pauses and punctuation abounded. The trio forged a perfect tempo in the Allegro finale that was clear and not rushed, allowing more room for flexibility. The program concluded with Webern’s transcription for piano quintet of his teacher Schönberg’s Kammersymphonie, op. 9. The Kammersymphonie seemingly attains the goals of color that Kirchner’s String Quartet No. 4 falls short of obtaining. The quintet for the most part played with terrific precision, with sweeping gestures from the strings and lively pianistic splashes. Nevertheless, strong pizzicato notes caused colossal amplification system failure.
The next concert in the Steinway series at the Smithsonian American Art Museum will feature singers from the Washington National Opera Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program, with pianist Carlos César Rodriguez, performing music by Chopin and Schumann (April 11, 3 pm). Free tickets to these concerts are distributed in the G Street Lobby, starting one hour before the performance.