Chamber music is, like good caviar and champagne, an acquired taste. My father adored string quartets and piano trios. I thought they were boring until, suddenly, in my 40s, I caught the chamber music bug, and it’s now become one of my favorite forms of music. When played well, it transports us from a world of noise and frenzy to a place of beauty and peace, understanding and enlightenment, sensitivity and calm.
One of the problems in reviewing a concert by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is that its musicians are so good they become the intermediaries between the masters and the audience.
Wu Han, the artistic director of the Chamber Music Society, is a particularly inspiring pianist, and when she appeared on the Van Wezel’s stage in the second half of the program last week, looking for all the world like a brilliant butterfly in her amazing Technicolor dream coat and bright red slippers, we wondered whether she’d steal the scene from her musical collaborators, violinist Arnaud Sussmann and cellist Gary Hoffman.
But their interpretation of Beethoven’s great Archduke trio was inspired; all the musicians demonstrated their skill in blending and making seamless transitions between the treacherous changes in tempo and meter in each movement. Only once (and this is nitpicking) was there a slight slipup among them, and, then, like the consummate chamber musicians they are, with a glance and a smile they were all back on track. That showed us that live music is the best.
For my heart, after all, that’s where this music finds itself — the Brahms Sextet No. 1 in B-flat was the sublime music making of the day. It’s rich, sonorous textures (from the “Let the Ball Roll” motif in the first movement to the deceptively simple sounding grace of the last) swept me away, and violinists Erin Keefe and Sussmann, violists Mark Holloway and Paul Neubauer, and cellists Hoffman and Jakob Koranyi did Brahms proud.