For the second of seven concert programs during Music@Menlo's 17th season, The Incredible Decades, artistic directors David Finckel and Wu Han put together a substantial menu of late Haydn, late Mozart, and early Beethoven called Beethoven Launched. With the eternally young Gilbert Kalish leading the way, the festival's all-star roster delighted an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Center for the Performing Arts audience.

Tommaso Lonquich, Wu Han and David Finckel © Anna Kariel
Tommaso Lonquich, Wu Han and David Finckel
© Anna Kariel

Festivities began when Kalish and the Escher Quartet's first violinist Adam Barnett-Hart and cellist Brook Speltz took on Haydn's relentlessly inventive Piano Trio no. 37 in D minor, one of the 14 he wrote from the mid 1790s on. For much of the time it sounded like a piano sonata with obligato string parts added to reinforce the piano more than play starring roles themselves. Assisted by occasional vocalizing from Kalish, Barnett-Hart's decisive line and Speltz's beautiful cello on those few occasions when he was given something to do, the music had clarity, stemming from Kalish's command of the layout and organic framing of magical moments, like his trills in the Adagio. The trio solved the thorny Finale with fierce energy and intricate, expert maneuevring.

Next Barnett-Hart led an exquisitely finely-tuned ensemble made of violinist Aaron Boyd, violists Paul Neubauer and Pierre Lapointe and cellist Speltz in a sleek, passionate performance of Mozart's last String Quintet, with the violas rustic in a d'Artagnan kind of way, which is to say bold and sexy. The speeds were a tad fast throughout but exhilaratingly so, and only the Andante ended too quickly.

For Beethoven's Piano Trio in B flat major, clarinetist Tommaso Lonquich, a member of the Danish Ensemble MidtVest and the Chamber Music Society of the Lincoln Center, joined Finckel and Wu Han in a smooth performance infused all along with a surprising amount of poetry. Lonquich is one of those clarinetists who in addition to making sublime sounds winds himself up in spiral dancing. In the Adagio, Finckel showed how to make a virtue of E flat major: his opening solo was drop dead gorgeous. With a nanosecond break, the Tema con variazione proceeded at a brisk tempo, impetuous but not rushed. Finckel soared in Variations two and six, and Han floated the cut-time section of Variation nine exquisitely. As Beethoven intended, the music caught fire in the last four bars and ended with a rush.

Gilbert Kalish, Peter Kolkay, Stephen Taylor, Kevin Rivard and Tommaso Lonquich © Anna Kariel
Gilbert Kalish, Peter Kolkay, Stephen Taylor, Kevin Rivard and Tommaso Lonquich
© Anna Kariel

The evening ended with Beethoven's Quintet for piano and winds in E flat major, in which Kalish, oboist Stephen Taylor, clarinetist Lonquich, bassoonist Peter Kolkay and French hornist Kevin Rivard, sweet-toned virtuosos all, fully enjoyed each other. The playing in this rarely-heard live piece was joyous all the way through, the climaxes carefully and dramatically judged with Kalish, a wise and compassionate partner whose love for the music was evident; his musical sigh opening the Andante cantabile was worth the price of admission itself, as if the movement were a dream, featuring a series of delicious oboe and bassoon riffs. It was the same in the Rondo which proceeded at a nice, swinging tempo in which Kalish's many statements of the main theme were deeply touching.

*****