Intimate Brahms at Landgren Schonbach Home

A special event for CSO and CCM was held at the gorgeous house of Peter Landgren, Dean of University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music last night. The authentic English Cotswold hosted about 30 patrons to enjoy an evening with the acclaimed Ariel Quartet, joined by Christian Colberg and Ilya Finkelshteyn from Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performing Brahms String Sextet No. 2, Op. 36.

After some snacks and vino, the guests were seated around the spacious living room, surrounding the musicians. The setting was comfortable and perfect for chamber music as such. It was definitely enjoyable for the patrons to be so intimately close to the musicians whom they have been supporting for years. Brahms Sextet is rarely performed because it is a challenge to find an extra violist and cellist, who are compatible with an established string quartet. In this case, the collaboration between CCM Ariel Quartet and CSO principals is a huge success as Brahms sounded incredible in Dean Landgren’s house.

The connection between the musicians was tight, and the unison sections were perfectly in tune, especially when Sasha Kazovsky (1st violin) and Jan Grüning (1st viola) were playing an octave apart in the Scherzo movement. Maybe there was not sufficient time for the musicians to play together,  because even though these six professionals were phrasing the music in sync, it lacks of more adventurous flexibility. Brahms music could have used more space and a lot of the cadences were simply rushed through without caution.

Ariel Quartet’s playing is impeccable. However, to my taste, Sasha Kazovsky’s vibrato, which has high frequency with smaller motion does not match the character of Brahms. Looking at Brahms sitting in front of the piano with big belly and full beard, the main melody lines could imitate these characteristics and have more warmth. A slower and bigger motion vibrato could create the so-called German sound, but it definitely needs the musicians to explore.  Amit Even-Tov is a new member of the group, who is truly expressive and makes beautiful sound from a cello, but somehow seemed to have difficulty keeping the same pulse with the group. I noticed this when they first performed at CCM and it still remains a flaw to the outstanding musicianship.

This kind of setting is fun and should be held more often when you have a big group of patrons who enjoy it. Overall, it was a memorable evening. Great architecture, great music and of course, great food and wine. What else wouldo you ask for?

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