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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Kiera Duffy; James Levine & The MET Chamber Ensemble

NEW YORK CITY
Carnegie Hall
11/15/14

The Met Chamber Ensemble opened their 2014-15 Carnegie Hall series on November 16 with a captivating program devoted to the music of the Second Viennese School. As time passes, it becomes more and more clear just what a towering achievement Arnold Schoenberg and his two primary pupils, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, accomplished. It is not possible to understand the direction and advances in serious art music that occurred in the twentieth century without coming to terms with the music of these three musical giants. To have faced the maudlin popular culture and the over-stuffed jadedness of late Romanticism and courageously led the way into completely new territory, based on the strongest possible rules of counterpoint, was a genuinely heroic undertaking, here reverenced with sublime performances by the Met Ensemble. 

Act I was devoted to seminal chamber works by Berg and Webern. A few seasons ago, James Levine led the MET Ensemble in an excellent performance of Alban Berg’s Chamber Concerto, featuring Yefim Bronfman. The present concert opened with Berg’s transcription of the Adagio movement of that masterwork, here arranged for violin, clarinet and piano. Berg completed this transcription in 1935, the year of his death. It made for a wonderful piece of chamber music, one all too infrequently performed. Berg was further represented by his magical Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 5. Webern was next up, with convincing performances of his Four Pieces for Violin and Piano, Op.7, Three Little Pieces for Cello and Piano, Op 11, and his magnificent Variations for Piano, Op. 27. Throughout, pianist Bryan Wagorn, clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan, violinist David Chan and cellist Rafael Figueroa provided impassioned, highly musical interpretations. Act I concluded with Schoenberg’s chamber transcription of Johann Strauss. Jr.’s delightful waltz, Rosen im Sudetenland (Roses from the South) conducted by James Levine.

The entirety of Act II consisted of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, one of the key works of twentieth-century music. This performance featured soprano Kiera Duffy, and James Levine again directed the ensemble. In recent decades, Pierrot Lunaire has suffered from attempts by performers to relate it to its presumed roots in cabaret, with the effect of robbing the work of its unsettled intensity and otherworldly strangeness. Duffy, Levine and the players produced a superb rendition of this masterwork, disturbing when it should be, kaleidoscopically colorful and musically vital throughout. The performance was impeccable. My only quibble was that here, as in the Berg Adagio, the harshly bright acoustic of Weill Recital Hall caused the piano to overpower Duffy and the instrumentalists. Perhaps for these numbers it would have been better to have had the piano lid raised on the short stick, rather than wide open. But, despite this occasional lapse, this performance is one that will remain long in the memory of those of us lucky enough to have witnessed it. spacer 

ARLO McKINNON

 

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