Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 12, 2021

REVIEW: South Mountain Concerts, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center

South Mountain Concerts, Pittsfield, MA 
October 10, 2021 
by Michael J. Moran 

Gilbert Kalish
When the previously scheduled Juilliard String Quartet cancelled due to illness, these friends of South Mountain came to the rescue on short notice with an inspired cross-generational ensemble pairing 86-year-old American master pianist Gilbert Kalish with four string players five and six decades younger in an imaginative program of four varied works from three centuries. 

It opened with a sprightly account of Mozart’s 1786 Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502, by Kalish, American violinist Stella Chen, and Chinese-born cellist Sihao He. Though reflecting the emphasis of its time on the piano as major partner, Kalish gave Chen and He plenty of room to shine in a lively opening “Allegro,” a graceful slow “Larghetto,” and a charming “Allegretto” finale. 

This was followed by Bohuslav Martinu’s Duo No. 1 (“Three Madrigals”), written in 1947 while the Czech-born composer was living in New York. Modeled on Renaissance-era madrigals (unaccompanied songs for multiple voices with elaborate harmonies), the piece was lovingly performed by Chen and Taiwan-born violist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu. They were buoyant in the energetic first movement, enchanting in the mysterious second, and intense in the folk-flavored third. 

Next came Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen’s 1897 arrangement for violin and viola of the Passacaglia (variations on a repeating rhythm) from Handel’s 1717 seventh suite for solo harpsichord. Korean-born violinist Kristin Lee and Wu met the work’s technical challenges with stunning virtuosity and an infectious sense of fun. 

The concert ended with a dramatic rendition of Brahms’s 1864 piano quintet, featuring a turbulent opening “Allegro non troppo,” a warm and flowing “Andante, un poco Adagio,” a ferocious “Scherzo: Allegro” (with a tender central trio), and a shattering “Poco sostenuto – Allegro non troppo” finale. Of special note were the seemingly ageless Kalish’s muscular yet mellow pianism and He’s dark, resonant cello, though the whole ensemble was polished and committed throughout. 

Introducing this final concert of South Mountain’s 2021 season from the stage, Executive Director Lou R. Steiger thanked the audience for their support through this difficult year and invited them back for a hopefully “more hospitable” post-Covid 2022 season beginning next September.