incident light

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

Music for five, played winningly by six

October 12, 2010

The San Antonio Chamber Music Society opened its 68th season, Oct. 10 in Temple Beth-El, with a visit by members of that other Chamber Music Society, the one attached to Lincoln Center in New York.

The program held late-in-life quintets by W.A. Mozart and Johannes Brahms and a youthful but altogether masterful quintet by Felix Mendelssohn.

The apex was Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, with the distinguished clarinetist David Shifrin joined by violinists Ani and Ida Kavafian, violist Paul  Neubauer and cellist Nicholas Canellakis.

In the main, the music is lyrical and ruminative; even the closing moments ditch the customary flash in favor of quiet reflection. Shifrin played the leading role with a burnished, warm, satiny tone that tended to blend into the creamy strings texture around him. Only in the central section of the adagio, when the music takes on a faintly Gypsy coloration, did Shifrin adopt a more aggressive, almost bluesy timbre. A gorgeous performance all around.

The teen-aged Mendelssohn was feeling his oats as an inventive weaver of consistently interesting counterpoint in his Viola Quintet in A Minor, Op. 18. The performance, with Neubauer taking the leading viola part and Mark Holloway in the second position, was lively, unified and crisply rendered. Canellakis contributed some rhythmic punch. Ani Kavafian, taking the first violin part, projected a firm, richly textured tone.

In Mozart’s String Quintet in E-flat, K. 614, Ida Kavafian and Holloway took the first violin and viola parts, respectively. The sound was very warm, the performance vigorous if sometimes a little loose. 

Coda: I note with interest that the Lincoln Center troupe’s tour is supported in part by a grant from the Lila Acheson and DeWitt Wallace Endowment Fund. You probably are aware that the Wallaces founded Readers Digest. You might not know that DeWitt Wallace was the son of James Wallace, president of Macalester College in the early 20th century. While Wallace fils was a student at that worthy institution in St. Paul, Minn., he cajoled a cow (or so the story goes) to climb the stairs to the chapel on the third floor of Old Main, the very building where, some years later, your faithful scribe studied (or so the story goes) political science and philosophy. 
Mike Greenberg