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Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Spotlight: April 20, 2010

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CMS: Spotlight
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) is the resident chamber music repertory organization of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City – one of twelve constituents of this celebrated arts complex that also includes the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera. CMS began its concert life in 1969 at the newly opened Alice Tully Hall, under the direction of pianist Charles Wadsworth, and has ever since been a premiere chamber music organization in the United States and around the world, with a steady schedule of outstanding concerts, broadcasts, recordings, commissions, and educational activities. CMS has continually brought together the finest soloists and chamber ensembles to perform the full gamut of chamber music written over the past three centuries, from established warhorses to little-known gems, as well as numerous premieres. Since 2004, the Artistic Directors of CMS have been cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, the dynamic husband and wife team that is also behind the celebrated ArtistLed label and the Music@Menlo summer music festival.

Among the principal missions of CMS is to “de-mystify” the realm of Chamber Music, and to make the music accessible to an ever-broader segment of the music-loving public with creative programming and educational initiatives – as well as creative multi-media projects, as seen in some of the videos found on this Feature page.

Although CMS has made some 40 recordings throughout its history, it is only since 2007 that they have produced them for its own CMS Studio Recordings label – of which three have been released thus far. To celebrate this important and budding catalogue, Classical Archives is pleased to feature these albums – – for which Classical Archives is offering a two-week exclusive on downloads. Liner Notes written by Dr. Richard E. Rodda.

Also read the fascinating Exclusive Interview with David Finckel and Wu Han conducted by Classical Archives Artistic Director Nolan Gasser.


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The first release of the new CMS Studio Recordings label featured Piano Quartets by two masters of the chamber music repertory: Ludwig van Beethoven (his Piano Quartet in Eb, Op.16) and Antonín Dvořák (his Piano Quartet in Eb, Op.74), along with Dvořák’s delightful Terzetto in C for 2 Violins and Viola, Op.74.

Liner notes (excerpts)

Among the works with which Beethoven sought to establish his reputation as a composer after settling in Vienna in 1792 was a series of pieces for wind instruments — the Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn (Op. 87), the Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Cello (Op. 11), the Sonata for Horn and Piano (Op. 17), the Septet (Op. 20, by far his most popular composition during his lifetime), and the Quintet for Piano and Winds (Op. 16). These works enabled him to demonstrate his skill in the traditional modes of chamber music without broaching the genre of the string quartet, then still indisputably dominated by Joseph Haydn. The Op. 16 Quintet drew its inspiration and model from Mozart’s exquisite Quintet for Piano and Winds of 1784 (K. 452), which Beethoven heard performed in Prague in spring 1796 during a concert tour that also took him to Dresden and Berlin. He apparently began his Quintet in Berlin and completed the score later that year in Vienna. The piece was first given at a concert on April 6, 1797 at the palace of Prince Joseph Johann von Schwarzenberg, which was also to be the site of the premiere of Haydn’s The Creation the following year and The Seasons in 1801.

Though the version of Op. 16 for piano and winds is one of Beethoven’s most sonorous and ingratiating creations, the original scoring limited the music’s suitability for the burgeoning home market that provided a significant source of income for both composer and publisher. Beethoven therefore made an arrangement of the work for the popular (and easily salable) configuration of the piano quartet — piano, violin, viola, and cello — that was issued simultaneously with the original wind version.


By 1889, the time of his Piano Quartet in E-flat major, Dvořák had become one of the most celebrated musicians of his generation. He was offered a professorship at the Prague Conservatory early that year, but refused the post after much careful thought in order to continue devoting himself to creative work and touring as a conductor of his music. In February, his opera The Jacobin enjoyed a great success at its premiere in Prague, and the following month his orchestral concert in Dresden received splendid acclaim. In May, the Emperor Franz Josef awarded him the distinguished Austrian Iron Cross, and a few months later, he received an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University. Dvořák composed the E-flat major Piano Quartet at his country home in Vysoká during that summer, the time between receiving these last two honors, in response to repeated requests from his publisher in Berlin, Fritz Simrock, to provide a successor to the First Piano Quartet, Op. 23, of 1875. The new composition was begun on July 10th and completed quickly within five weeks, evidence of the composer’s testimony to his friend Alois Göbl that his head was so full of ideas during that time that he regretted he could not write them down fast enough; he completed his boundlessly lyrical Symphony No. 8 just two months later. Simrock published the score of the Quartet early in 1890.

Liner note excerpts by Dr. Richard E. Rodda, a prolific program annotator for numerous orchestras, ensembles, festivals, and publications.

Beethoven, Dvořák: Piano Quartets; Dvořák: Terzetto
Chamber Music Society ...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 11 Length: 1:18:24

CMS Studio Recordings
Rel. 19 Sep 2007
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1 1.Allegro non troppo 4:06
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2 2.Larghetto 4:27
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3 3.Scherzo 4:06
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4 4.Finale: Theme and Variations 4:43
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5 1.Grave. Allegro ma non troppo 13:17
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6 2.Andante cantabile 7:03
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7 3.Rondo: Allegro, ma non troppo 5:52
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8 1.Allegro con fuoco 8:31
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9 2.Lento 9:32
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10 3.Allegro moderato 7:23
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11 4.Allegro ma non troppo 9:24
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The second release of the CMS Studio Recordings label featured two monumental chamber works from early 20th-century England: William Walton’s Piano Quartet in D-, and Edward Elgar’s Piano Quintet in A-, Op.84. Along with the top-tier performers, the CD was edited and produced by Grammy Award-winning producer, Da-Hong Setto.

Liner notes (excerpts)

Edward Elgar began the Piano Quintet in the summer of 1918 at Brinkwells, near the West Sussex village of Fittleworth, where he had settled to recover from the rigors of the war years. He worked on the quintet throughout the rest of year simultaneously with the String Quartet and the Violin Sonata, and completed it early the following year. It was given a private performance in London on April 26, 1919, and received its public premiere at Wigmore Hall on May 21st. Billy Reed, second violinist in the quintet’s early performances and a close associate of Elgar at that time, noted in his later writings about the composer the profound effect that the woody surroundings of Brinkwells had on the chamber works written there in 1918. Reed visited West Sussex frequently, trying out Elgar’s new music, offering advice on points of string technique, and joining the composer in his walks through the countryside. Standing in stark contrast to the largely halcyon environs of Brinkwells was a blasted plateau at Flexham Park, near Bedham. Capped by an eerie copse of gnarled and twisted trees, struck by lightning, Reed judged, it produced “a ghastly sight in the evening.” Elgar, enthralled with misty legends and supernatural tales, saw some mystical significance in the strange trees, which his wife, Alice, described as “sad” and “dispossessed.” In his 1933 biography of Elgar, Basil Maine expounded a legend that he said was connected with the trees: “Upon the plateau, it is said, was once a settlement of Spanish monks, who, while carrying out some impious rite, were struck dead; and the trees are their dead forms.” Not a scrap of evidence supports any factual basis for the old Sussex legend, but its haunted, romantic mood played strongly upon Elgar’s mind during the writing of the quintet, and provided the emotional foundation upon which much of the music is based — the work is signed “Brinkwells” at the end, but “Bedham” following the first movement. “It is strange music I think & I like it — but — it’s ghostly stuff,” Elgar wrote in 1919 to the critic and writer Ernest Newman, to whom the composition was dedicated.


Sir William Walton (he was knighted in 1951) was the son of two musicians: his mother was a singing teacher and his father the local church choirmaster. Reports have it (though, unfortunately, without corroborating details) that he was singing Handel anthems before he could speak. Piano and violin lessons followed. He was packed off to the Choir School at Christ Church, Oxford, when he was ten because his father knew the educational opportunities to be better there than in provincial Oldham, the family’s hometown. At age 16 Walton, already showing musical promise, was admitted to Christ Church College by the Right Rev. Thomas Banks Strong, Dean of the College, who also tapped the institution’s funds to be sure that the young student could meet his needs. Perhaps challenged by the Rev. Strong’s faith in him, or perhaps to fulfill an ambitious assignment from Hugh Allen, the noted organist and teacher who had just joined the Oxford faculty, sometime in 1918 Walton began a quartet for piano and strings, his first large-scale undertaking.

At just that time, the offspring of the wealthy, cultured, and well-placed Sitwell family — Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell — were trolling England’s campuses in search of youthful artistic genius (a sort of social compensation for their mother having recently been clapped into Holloway Prison for three months when her husband refused to honor her debts). The Rev. Strong pointed the Sitwells toward young Walton, who invited them to his rooms in February of 1919. Osbert later recounted the meeting: “Our host, not quite 17 years of age, we found to be a rather tall, slight figure, with pale skin and straight, fair hair…. Sensitiveness rather than toughness was the quality at first most apparent in him…. The atmosphere was not, however, easy; music showed a way out of the constraint, and after tea we pressed him to play some of his compositions to us. Accordingly, he sat down at the piano to play the slow movement from his Piano Quartet…. As he began to play, he revealed a lack of mastery of the instrument so that it was difficult to form an opinion of the music at first hearing. It was as impossible that afternoon to estimate his character or talents as it was to foresee that for the next 17 years he would become an inseparable companion and friend.”

Liner note excerpts by Dr. Richard E. Rodda, a prolific program annotator for numerous orchestras, ensembles, festivals, and publications.

Elgar: Piano Quintet; Walton: Piano Quartet
Chamber Music Society ...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 7 Length: 1:06:02

CMS Studio Recordings
Rel. 1 Nov 2007
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1 1.Moderato. Allegro 14:39
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2 2.Adagio 11:27
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3 3.Andante. Allegro 10:53
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29:03
Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Chamber Ensemble, Wu Han Piano, Ani Kavafian Violin, Paul Neubauer Viola, Fred Sherry Cello
4 1.Allegramente 6:37
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5 2.Allegro scherzando 5:20
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6 3.Andante tranquillo 8:35
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7 4.Allegro molto 8:31
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The most recent release of the CMS Studio Recordings label features the accomplishments of two important American women – first the great early 20th century composer Amy Beach, with her Piano Quintet in F#-, Op.87; and a recent work by American composer Alan Louis Smith, Vignettes: Covered Wagon Woman, for mezzo-soprano and piano trio – which was inspired by the 1850 diary of pioneer Margaret Ann Alsip Frink.

Liner Notes (excerpt)

Amy Beach wrote her Quintet for Piano and Strings in 1907, near the end of the years of her marriage when she had devoted herself largely to composition. A slow, largely meditative introduction prefaces the sonata form of the opening movement. The music pauses and then the tempo quickens for the main theme, a smooth, somber melody presented by the violin; the second theme, in a brighter tonality, is given in the piano’s tenor register. Ethereal, sustained string unisons recalled from the introduction bridge to the development section, which treats both of the movement’s themes. The strings, again in unison, begin the recapitulation with a broad but shortened version of the main subject above the piano’s muscular accompaniment; the second theme returns in the violin. The movement comes to a quiet, melancholy close. The Adagio is in a large three-part form (A–B–A) that uses a tender melody as the theme of its outer sections (violin then piano at the outset, cello at the return) and music of a more impassioned nature for its extended central episode. The finale, in altered sonata form, takes as its principal subject an anxious, short-phrased violin strain presented after a vigorous introduction and as its subsidiary theme an expansive theme of small intervals presented by the viola. The development section culminates with a fugal treatment of the main theme in the tremolo strings that is broken off by a sudden silence. The Quintet’s ethereal opening measures are recalled, after which the work concludes with the return of the finale’s second theme and a brief, forceful coda based on the principal subject.


Alan Louis Smith is one of this country’s most highly regarded collaborative pianists and teachers and a composer of growing reputation. Born in McAllen, Texas in 1955, Smith earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance at Baylor University and his doctorate in piano chamber music and vocal accompanying at the University of Michigan, where his principal mentor was the renowned accompanist Martin Katz. Smith has held faculty appointments at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, the University of Michigan, Baylor University, and, since 1989, at the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California, where he was named Chair of Keyboard Studies in 2003. He has also served as a member of the vocal coaching faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center and is coordinator of the piano program, for which he holds the Marian Douglas Martin Master Teacher Chair.

The composer has provided the following information about Vignettes: Covered Wagon Woman: “When Margaret Frink crossed the American continent in a covered wagon with her husband in 1850 it had only been 46 years since Lewis and Clark had begun their famous journey into the uncharted West with their Corps of Discovery and less than a year since the beginning of the California Gold Rush. Mrs. Frink and her husband, Ledyard, set out upon their journey from Indiana to Sacramento, California along with a young boy named Robert, who was 11 years old at the time of the crossing, and a young man named Aaron Rose, who was not yet 21 and who for three years had been a clerk in the mercantile store owned by Mr. Frink and Mrs. Frink’s brother, A. B. Alsip, in Martinsville, Indiana.

Mrs. Frink’s remarkable diary reveals her adventurous spirit, her deep love for those in her care, as well as her perspicacious and resourceful ability to provide for herself and her family through a combination of shrewd bargaining and alliances with those with whom she came in contact on their journey westward. She was generous and big-hearted toward people in need and in distress along the trail, sometimes giving the last of whatever she possessed in order to help someone.

Liner note excerpts by Dr. Richard E. Rodda, a prolific program annotator for numerous orchestras, ensembles, festivals, and publications.

Amy Cheney Beach: Piano Quintet; Alan Louis Smith: Vignettes: Covered Wagon Woman
Chamber Music Society ...

CDs: 1 Tracks: 16 Length: 1:07:10

CMS Studio Recordings
Rel. 25 Sep 2008
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1 1.Adagio. Allegro moderato 9:50
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2 2.Adagio espressivo 9:38
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3 3.Allegro agitato 9:24
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4 1.The Allure of the West (instrumental) 1:26
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5 2.Prologue to the Journal 1:58
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6 3.There's a Lady 2:00
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7 4.Considerable Excitement 1:37
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8 5.The Face of the Earth 1:36
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9 6.Buffalo Chase 2:56
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10 7.The Sioux Tribe and the 'White Squaw' 3:30
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11 8.Lost Boy 3:52
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12 9.Upon Them She Depended 1:33
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13 10.The Mountain 6:49
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14 11.Margaret's Dream (instrumental) 3:31
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15 12.Here We Are 2:58
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16 13.Epilogue to the Journal 4:32
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