Review: Alaska Airlines Winter Classics

Art Snob Blog

Program changes and a broken string aside, the opening night of the Alaska Airlines Winter Classics chamber music series at Alaska Pacific University produced memorable music that captivated the Grant Hall audience.

Pianists Eduard Zilberkant and Navah Perlman opened the night with Schubert's Fantasy in F Minor for four hands; not a particularly nuanced reading, but had the program consisted of nothing except this piece I would have stood in the snow barefoot to hear it. Zilberkant and Perlman conjured a whole universe in 17 minutes with this piece, which is not heard that often in public because, well, how many times do you have two good pianists sharing the bill on one program?

Violinist Philippe Quint did not feel well enough to play the scheduled Prokofiev Sonata No. 2, so the Franck Sonata was moved from Saturday's lineup. Most familiar in its violin version, it was here played on the cello by Zuill Bailey with Zilberkant in the piece. Count me among those who prefers the violin version; the timbre of the cello and the piano do not contrast as brilliantly as with the violin, notably in the climactic phrase that is repeated and built up throughout the work. That said, this may have been the happiest cello incarnation of the Franck I have ever experienced. That was due, first, to Bailey intelligent and heartfelt attention to attractively sculpting the phrases and also Zilberkant's confidence at the keyboard. The second movement sometimes leaves listeners perplexed, but on Friday there was a big round of applause at the end of it.

Perlman opened the second half of the program with Brahms' Rhapsody in B Minor, played with virtuosity and some distinction between the voices, but more a mass of notes rather than a sharply-defined structure. The central Meno agitato section shifting into the major, where I want the variations in the repeated bars to tell a story, seemed more like fill, chatter on the way to the recapitulation. The quiet conclusion felt unresolved. 

In fairness, if I had Perlman's talent, I'm not sure that the result would have been any different. It may be heresy to bring it up, but perhaps this Rhapsody, as pithy as it is, was just not conceived on Brahms' best day, compared to the partner piece, the Rhapsody in G Minor, which has similar complexity but a different and perhaps more convincing architecture.

It was a different matter when she returned with Quint and Bailey for the Shostakovich Trio. Here each musical gesture bulged with tragedy, sarcasm, anxiety, Kafkaesque tales that cannot be put into words. The playing was mighty energetic, too. The performers were on their way to a glorious finish when Quint broke a string on his Stradivarius. Perman and Bailey entertained the crowd with banter until he returned with a new string and began the near impossible task of getting it to hold it's pitch for the remainder of the finale. "They're not going to be able to tell," Bailey quipped. 

They picked up the score near the interruption point and brought the crowd to its feet. Quint will present the Prokofiev on Saturday night and other program changes are afoot from what was previously announced. Saturday's program will feature Quint in all the pieces and the Brahms Trio remains in place for Sunday.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available at or at the door - but get there early. I saw no empty seats on Friday.