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Deborah Buck, Orli Shaham at Bargemusic, 26 May 2023
Deborah Buck, Orli Shaham at Bargemusic, 26 May 2023. Photo credit: Oren Hope

Concert Review: Violinist Deborah Buck, pianist Orli Shaham at Bargemusic (May 26 2023)

A concert creatively constructed can be more than the sum of its parts. Violinist Deborah Buck, long of the Lark Quartet, and renowned pianist Orli Shaham put together just such a program for Bargemusic’s Masterworks Series on May 26.

A web of biographical and stylistic interconnections linked music by contemporary composers Jessie Montgomery and Avner Dorman with works by the legendary Romantic-era trio of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms and their lesser-known but eminently worthy contemporary, the 19th-century Swedish composer and violin virtuoso Amanda Maier.

The boxy and low-ceilinged space inside the onetime coffee barge is conducive to a warm “chamber” sound – as if one were enjoying a performance by members of one’s extended family in the comfortable drawing room of an old manse. At the same time, the rocking of the boat as vessels motor past along the East River suggests the aftermath of a strong Irish coffee – and poses a challenge to musicians, especially those standing on their feet, as Buck did.

Amanda Maier: Giving a 19th-Century Trailblazer Her Due

Buck and Shaham rose (or swayed) to the challenge mightily, as I have seen many a musician do on the barge. They began with the Sonata for Violin and Piano by Maier. They gave the first movement of this wonderful piece the gravitas it asks for, then cruised through the swaying (like the barge) rhythms of the Andantino with its sunny and dramatic minuet-like trio section. The finale has a touch of Beethoven-esque power, conveyed here with equal parts sparkle and sensitivity, the great melodies sung full-tilt.

Shaham took a break as Buck gave us the Rhapsody No. 1 for Solo Violin by Jessie Montgomery, who is, like Maier, both a fine composer and a superb violinist. Montgomery evokes the style of Ysaÿe in this piece, which she wrote for herself. It demands virtuosity in several dimensions, with long passages of angular double-stopped melodies and spirited arpeggios culminating in a lyrical, ballet-like ending. Buck’s performance shone on all fronts.

Clara Schumann’s Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22, reflect her intimate familiarity with the music of Robert Schumann and of Brahms. The sweet Andante Molto and the mesmerizing third Romance marked “Leidenschaftlich schnell” (“Passionately fast”) bookend the dark Allegretto with its sly sense of play and Brahmsian reach.

Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY
Photo credit: Oren Hope

Brahms on the Barge, and in a New Context

Brahms himself then emerged in an enlightening concoction for solo piano conjured by Shaham. The pianist had commissioned a number of composers to create music in response to Brahms’ late work. Avner Dorman’s piece was inspired by Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 119 No. 1. Shaham played first the Brahms, then Dorman’s rousing and thought-provoking nth-degree response as if they were one piece. In a seemingly miraculous collapsing of the centuries, the two composer-pianists seemed to inhabit the same sublime circle of intimate, intricate creativity. Shaham conjured an achingly pure tone from the piano that made Brahms’ woeful passion and Dorman’s arch twistings and stormy interlude all the more expressive.

The program ended with Robert Schumann’s Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano. The opening movement, played with a tempered sense of romance that suited the music perfectly, felt faintly cloudy and somber. The Allegretto had a light, almost childlike touch, which set up a smashing account of the finale that made the marking, “Lebhaft” (“Lively”), something of an understatement. The jazzy ragtime and pure fun of “Gamin” from William Grant Still’s Suite for Violin and Piano served as a spirited encore.

When is a concert more than the sum of its parts? When it’s held on a boat that’s more than a boat. Information on the busy schedule of concerts at Bargemusic including the Masterworks series is available online.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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