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Review: Chamber music at the Palladium

January 31, 2011

I'm not ready to use the word "perfect" (a staple in the marketing message of the region's new concert hall) but, in my lifetime, I honestly don't expect to hear chamber music in a better sounding hall than I did Jan. 30th at the Palladium.

It helps, of course, when the players are as expert as the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Miro Quartet, and Lynn Harrell.

CMS co-artistic director Wu Han and fellow pianist Inon Barnatan got things started with the familiar strains of "Rhapsody in Blue," sounding freshly minted as they played together on one piano. I appreciate the ushers' mandate to restrict latecomers from entering the hall during the piece, which kept the energy focused on George Gershwin's energetic masterpiece. (Although, given the trek from the parking garage, forgiveness can be granted)

For the second piece, Wu Han remained onstage, joined by violinist Arnaud Sussmann, violist Mark Holloway, and cellist Andreas Brantelid for Brahms' "Quartet in G Minor," in which the quartet coalesced beautifully, whether playing delicate, peaceful moments or revving up to an almost silent-movie-chase energy. The audience resisted applauding after the first movement, but went against protocol by clapping in between the rest (included: Center for the Performing Arts Artistic Director Michael Feinstein and Carmel Mayor James Brainard, who sat in opposite boxes and, to their credit, avoided lengthening the show with speeches).

The two pieces combined into a long first act, leading a noticeable number of audience members to leave at intermission. Still more who hung in for the second act performance by Miro Quartet and Lynn Harrell tried to discreetly bolt between movements--which was particularly noticeable in the behind-the-stage seating. 

Those who bailed, though, missed out on a seemingly effortless read of Schubert's "Cello Quintet in C Major." With his Bert Lahr visage and central placement on stage, Harrell had the air of a teacher whose students had excelled and become his peers. Violinists Daniel Ching and Sandy Yamamoto, violist John Largess, and cellist Joshua Gindele established a level of excellence that I look forward to seeing challenged—but don’t expect to see beat—in future events here.

In hindsight, the length of the afternoon concert was its only deficit. Either of the groups could have held the stage on its own with a satisfying two-hour experience. A half-hour beyond that was a bit trying even for those thrilled at the sounds being created.

Still, the bar has been set and the Palladium hype, in large part, justified. It sounds great to me.

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