Music at Kohl Mansion, our local chamber music series in Burlingame, has — like many other chamber music providers nationwide — responded to the pandemic by moving its concerts online.
For reasonable ticket fees, concertgoers may watch high-quality video recordings of musicians, masked and socially distanced unless they’ve been sheltering together, perform in halls near their own homes. If the performers may be from anywhere, so may the audiences. The pandemic has erased geography.
Still, local concertgoers may particularly want to support Kohl Mansion until it can return to giving in-person concerts. There is another reason to support Kohl: the high musical quality of its offerings. The Kohl programmers have so far scheduled three online concerts, two of which have now been held. All are half-length concerts, about an hour in duration, with usefully informative introductions to the music by resident musicologist Kai Christensen. They’re put up on YouTube, a versatile and reliable platform. Each is prerecorded and may be heard at Kohl’s usual program time, 7 p.m. Sundays, with repeats on the following Thursdays.
The season’s first offering, on Nov. 1, featured a German ensemble of piano and strings called the Fauré Quartett, after the players’ favorite French composer. Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) created elegant and finely-crafted works. He specialized in chamber music and art songs. He taught Maurice Ravel, whose music somewhat resembles his. This concert featured Fauré’s Piano Quartet No. 1, Op. 15, framed by arrangements of two of his songs from the same period, about 1879.
This was a profoundly excellent performance, presenting Fauré’s work in its finest light. The players showed a deep knowledge of and love for this music. The melodies flowed with urgent commitment. The sonic balance also was excellent, with neither piano nor the three strings drowning out the other, a regular concern in this type of music. The only problem was that the acoustics in the Berlin recording studio were damp and heavy. Fortunately, this did not get in the way of a sparkling performance.
The second concert, on Nov. 15, celebrated the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth in 1770. Cellist Amit Peled and pianist Noreen Polera performed two of Beethoven’s sonatas for that pair of instruments. The Sonata in A, Op. 69, although written at the same time as the intense Fifth Symphony, is a broad and fairly relaxed work which Peled and Polera tightened up with passionate playing. The Sonata in C, Op. 102, No. 1, one of the first of Beethoven’s late-period works, is briefer and more fiery, full of thundering chords for the two instruments together.
Here the acoustics were of great help. The sound from a recital hall at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore was clean and dry. Yet it was not so dry as to undercut the remarkable richness of Peled’s newly-acquired 1695 Milanese cello or the firm quality of Polera’s work at the piano. Beethoven was careful to balance the two instruments and these players faithfully followed his intent. As with the Fauré Quartett, balance of sound and commitment of performance made for an excellent listening experience.
Music at Kohl’s third concert will be broadcast Jan. 24. The players will be the Alexander String Quartet, a local ensemble long warmly appreciated by Bay Area audiences. This group will continue the Beethoven celebration with his longest string quartet, Op. 130 with the original “Grosse Fuge” finale. This will be one of the last chances to hear the quartet before the retirement of Paul Yarbrough, its founding violist. Listeners may be grateful for the fine concerts that Music at Kohl Mansion is continuing to bring to us.