Met Chamber Ensemble From left, David Chan, Michael Ouzounian, Bryan Wagorn and Kiera Duffy on Sunday at Weill Recital Hall. Photo by Emon Hassan.
Sometimes Brevity Is the Soul of Music
Met Chamber Ensemble at Weill Recital Hall
November 17, 2014 | The New York Times
Anton Webern, born in 1883, composed as if trying to obey Twitter’s character limit: His stark, tiny “Three Little Pieces for Cello and Piano” (Op. 11) encompasses about 140 notes. An elegantly rendered, concise statement is impressive in any literary or musical genre, although in Webern’s chilly, atonal miniatures brevity often seems a baffling extreme.
Several works by Webern were included on the Met Chamber Ensemble’s program on Sunday evening at Weill Recital Hall. The lineup focused on music of the Second Viennese School, whose composers abandoned traditional tonality for atonal and serialist aesthetics.
Webern’s music often leaves me cold, but I could appreciate how the pianist Bryan Wagorn and the cellist Rafael Figueroa sensitively rendered the fleeting gestures of Opus 11. Mr. Wagorn also offered a characterful rendition of the Variations for Piano (Op. 27) and joined the violinist David Chan for the Four Pieces for Violin and Piano (Op. 7), whose expressive intricacies the duo deftly revealed.
The program opened with Berg’s arrangement for Violin, Clarinet and Piano of the Adagio from his Chamber Concerto, which he dedicated to his friend and mentor Schoenberg. Mr. Wagorn, Mr. Chan and the clarinetist Boris Allakhverdyan offered an intense, richly hued performance; Mr. Allakhverdyan and Mr. Wagorn joined forces for a poetic rendition of Berg’s Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano (Op. 5), also dedicated to Schoenberg and whose score fully exploits the full timbral range of the clarinet.
While Schoenberg and his contemporaries shied away from the 19th-century Romanticism of their predecessors, they also produced arrangements for benefit concerts. Schoenberg arranged Johann Strauss II’s waltz “Rosen aus dem Süden” (“Roses From the South”) for a fund-raiser in 1921, which also included Strauss arrangements by Webern and Berg.
Webern’s austere miniatures were in contrast to the luxuriant Schoenberg arrangement, a brief surge of tonality vividly conducted by James Levine at the end of the first half of the program.
After intermission, Mr. Levine led the soprano Kiera Duffy in Schoenberg’s groundbreaking “Pierrot Lunaire,” a seminal work of the 20th century that uses Sprechstimme, a declamatory, singsong, half-spoken, half-sung vocal technique. Ms. Duffy proved a characterful narrator as she relayed the vast emotional terrain of the cycle, from moonlit musings to terror-stricken wanderings.