Thursday, April 6, 2017

APA Discovery Week concert: With the Pacifica Quartet, Steven Lin makes magnficent work of Dohnanyi's precocious quintet

As the fourth finalist to play a Chamber Music Series concert this week, Steven Lin showed some more of the individuality that I found remarkable in his playing at the American Pianists Awards new-music concert on Tuesday evening.
Steven Lin displayed his personality through Schumann and Dohnanyi.

But that didn't keep him from being an adroit, simpatico chamber-music partner of the Pacifica Quartet in Erno Dohnanyi's Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor, op. 1. The ensemble sound was consistently solid. The pianist wasn't pressing to carry his contribution to the very edge; rather, to fold it within a collective artistic whole.

It was impressive how well the slow movement hung together — an Adagio of such lingering charm that it's understandable Dohnanyi just didn't want to let go of it. The rapid exchanges in the Scherzo were polished and precise, and the collaboration seemed so delightful all around, it's no wonder Lin and second violinist Sibbi Bernhardsson exchanged satisfied smiles after the final hushed chord.

The last movement of this achingly romantic score has the teenage composer in full display, showing off everything he could command from his novice muse. The rondo theme of "Finale: Allegro animato" presents a strong profile, but the episodes between its welcome return are also first-rate — especially the fugal section and the ingenious blend of a waltz with the rondo statement. The clarity the five musicians achieved throughout never got clouded in the strenuous course the music has to run without overheating.

There was time for only one solo excursion in Lin's program: Robert Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, op. 13, with the interpolation of four "posthumous" variations. After a portentous start with the theme, Lin showed unflagging skill in giving independent life to all the etudes; among them, the fluttery third, the "hunting-horn" fifth (Schumann romping over some of his favorite kind of terrain), the trenchant sixth, the elfin ninth.

The "sotto voce" opening of the the eleventh etude was a nice touch — a subtle signal of the drama to come — and at its conclusion, the confident progress of the finale (Allegro brillante) had all the variety one could want. Lin imparted a majestic snap to its dotted rhythms and evenly voiced chords right up through the final accented arpeggio. The crowd in Christ Church Cathedral predictably voiced its enthusiasm, as it was also to do after that splendid quintet.