Brahms Intermezzi Op. 116

Once again, a Columbia audience enjoyed a first-class performance of chamber music at the Columbia Museum of Art on Feb. 13.

There is nothing about this series that is passive. The standard is equal to the programs The Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, New York, or in the Bank of America Chamber Music of Spoleto USA in Charleston’s Dock Street Theatre.

Just as entrepreneur Charles Wadsworth designed what has become one of America’s finest approaches to defining chamber music, artistic director Edward Arron has continued that same approach, selecting the instrumentalists, singers and the literature they perform. Keeping a supreme standard — and, at the same time, presenting a truly fascinating mixture of ensembles and composers — requires a depth of knowledge, such as that possessed by Arron.

Last Thursday's concert contained, in addition to Mr. Arron on the cello, a violinist, a violist and a pianist.

Opening with Mozart’s Duo in G Major for Violin and Viola, K. 423 — popular in the pedagogical literature, but rarely heard on the concert stage — Arnaud Sussmann, violin, and Max Mandel, viola, immediately displayed relaxed virtuosity in this work that was “ghost composed” by Mozart for Michael Haydn, but later revealed as Mozart’s.

That history is just plain amusing: Nothing in the music sounds like Michael Haydn except maybe the opening of the Rondeau, but that doesn’t last long when Mozart creates the superior ambience for which he is so well known. Perhaps there is more humor in this work than one might expect. And perhaps that reflects Mozart’s attempt to make light of his music as both Franz Joseph and Michael Haydn were known for doing. Whatever the case, this performance absolutely took flight; never mind it being demanding of virtuosity. When an audience is heard chuckling, the music wins. Columbia chuckled.

Benjamin Hochman, piano, took the stage with three Intermezzi, Op. 116, numbers 4 in E Major, 5 in E minor, and 6 in E Major. This pianist has an ability to make the piano sing. These Brahms works keep demanding melodic passages in the middle of the textures, so that the pianist has to create them with mostly the thumbs of both hands, with a vast amount of music going on with the other four fingers of both hands. Hochman is so adept at this demanding technique, especially in the introspective style of late Brahms, that one just wants to weep.

Joachín Turina is not a composer one thinks of when awakening in the morning. Not even Google reveals much about this Spanish composer who lived 1882-1949. But this is where expertise in chamber music programming becomes a real art. There was nothing in this work that was not worth hearing. Filled with Spanish earmarks in rhythm and melody, as well as rapid changes of mood, its demands on the expertise of performers was well met by these four marvelous musicians.

Finally, the major work of the evening was Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Opus 47. After a rather tame first movement, the remaining three reveal many facets of Schumann’s states of depression — sudden rushes of emotion followed by quiet reflection — always calling on melodic themes that have been presented in previous sections. It’s one thing to listen to a fine recording of such works as this, but actually participating in the attentiveness each player has for the other, and hear nothing but the actual sound of the instruments — it’s what chamber music is all about. How Columbia has come to be the proud possessor of this series for the past 12 years is due to the selfless support of U.S. Trust, faithful sponsors and an extremely active board of trustees.

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