At Peabody, Schubert with verve, variety

February 04, 1997|By Pierre Ruhe | Pierre Ruhe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Friday was the bicentennial of Franz Schubert's birth, and his friends throughout the world gathered for a full evening of his music. In his own lifetime, such convivial gatherings constituted a Schubertiade.

Peabody's celebration, in the Friedberg Concert Hall, was seemingly arranged around the available forces rather than directed by any attempts at surveying his gargantuan output. Yet there was plenty of variety, with often-heard works sandwiching those less frequently performed.

Schubert's music has happily settled at the forefront of the chamber repertoire, sharing most-performed status on the concert stage with Beethoven and Brahms. In song repertoire, having composed more than 600 for voice and piano, he is without peer. His symphonic and choral output likewise is among the most frequently programmed. Only his operas have yet to find a place with major companies. Indeed, with so many works, one finds it difficult to imagine where he found the time to write so much in so short a life. At 31 he was dead.

Thus, his place on Olympus secure, the most fervent discussions in the past decade concerning the composer have revolved around his sexual orientation, which surely tells us more about our times than about his. Through diaries and correspondence we know that many within his circle of friends were homosexual, and a few documents even offer thinly veiled references to Schubert's sexuality. Does it matter that Schubert was gay? Does it tell us anything about his music? No. But if nothing else is gained from the discussion of the private life of a quiet man who lived briefly two centuries ago, it's a reflection of just how strongly people identify with his music.

Several performers on Friday's program were noteworthy. Amy Lin, a pianist and the evening's organizer, treated two Impromptus from Op. 90 (Nos. 2 and 3) with a forceful yet singing tone, reminding the listener that Schubert himself must have been a sensitive, colorful interpreter at the keyboard.

"Auf dem Strom" for soprano, horn and piano (D. 943), benefited from Hyunah Yu's clear, glassy voice and Larry William's smooth control of his horn. A setting of Psalm 23 "Gott ist mein Hirt" (D. 706), for women's chorus, was nicely balanced and well-shaded in the upper parts, perhaps the most enjoyable work of the night.

Lin, violinist Qian Zhou and cellist Bonnie Thron concluded with the E-flat Trio, Op. 100, aggressive and extroverted, but also mismatched. Strings ignored piano. Zhou's phrases throughout were front-loaded and brash. She put an emphasis on the opening of each breath -- to project a soloist's sparkle rather than following the contour of a line that makes a warm, musical phrase. Thron, in comparison, was made to seem underpowered.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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