A 'paradise' amid the rocks and weeds
The Baltimore Sun

Leon Fleisher, Pamela Frank and other Peabody faculty perform Brahms

As the snow was covering Mount Vernon Place with a picturesque layer Tuesday night, faculty members of the Peabody Conservatory performed a rewarding chamber music program.

The big draw was another opportunity to hear Leon Fleisher in two-handed mode, playing Brahms' F minor Quintet. Any time this pianist takes the stage is an occasion, of course, even when he is using only his left hand (damage to his right restricted his keyboard options for decades until Botox therapy in recent years made it possible to use that hand again, within limits). Each ambidextrous venture becomes all the more treasurable an occasion.

Fleisher was joined in the Brahms work by violinists Violaine Melancon and Pamela Frank (a major talent who has not been in the spotlight much lately and here took the second violin chair), violist Maria Lambros and cellist Michael Kannen. Except for the most emphatic moments, when Melancon's tone tended to fray, the string players poured on a cohesively blended, warm-bodied sound and phrased with great sensitivity. Fleisher's contributions were, as usual, authoritative in character throughout.

Although I wouldn't have minded a little more

tension from the ensemble in the second movement, a little more abandon in the finale, this was an insightful, loving account of a darkly beautiful score.

The string players alone delivered the first half of the concert. After an amiable account of Beethoven's D major Quartet, Op. 18, No. 3, attention turned Webern's Five Movements, Op. 5. I readily confess that this, for me, was the most satisfying part of the whole evening.

Webern, widely ignored by musical organizations and even more widely feared by listeners, remains one of the most significant composers of the last century. Hearing these brief, idea-packed scores, which reveal Webern boldly stretching away from traditional tonality toward a new world of sound and structure, was a rare, absorbing pleasure.

It was made all the more intense by the superb technical control and expressive nuance of the players -- and the extraordinary silence in the audience. Every note could be fully savored in the hall, even the softest, when the musicians masterfully filed their tone down to the barest, yet still wonderfully expressive, essence.

I'll always stubbornly believe that the the general public could embrace a lot more of Webern (not to mention Schoenberg and Berg) if only a) the music were programmed more frequently and carefully, and b) if it were always performed with the kind of care and commitment demonstrated here.

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