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Fortepiano Brings Gentle Touch To Allegro Concert

Allegro Tuesday, Jan. 7, The Met

Allegro has had their Schubertiad. A handful of musicians welcomed a large Met audience into their virtual living room Tuesday, and sustained the deception with a casual and intimate presentation.

Of foremost importance, if a modern grand piano had been substituted for the period fortepiano and everything else in the performance had remained the same, it would have been an entirely different and lesser concert. With the same musicians and quality of performance, the introduction of the steel-framed behemoth we have come to know and love would have seemed overbearing by comparison.

Beverly Biggs’ kinder and gentler ancestor of the Steinway offers a sound which instantly unjangles the nerves. Other musicians on the stage need not compete to be heard; they can relax into very natural phrasing and pass on the savings to the audience in terms of intimacy.

Harpsichords are no longer rare, and the piano is ever present, but a live fortepiano is scarce and needs to be heard. It is worth making yourself available to the experience the next time one emerges from hibernation, which will probably coincide with Allegro’s March performance.

Bonnie Garrett, the guest keyboard artist, was very much at home with the instrument and the material. She seemed to enjoy Schubert’s every phrase and nuance of texture and shared that enjoyment with the audience. Garrett’s moments alone, the “Moment Musical” and the B-flat Scherzo, showed that she was willing to give and take time to present Schubert in his episodic fragments and combine them into a whole.

Soprano Darnelle Preston’s first encounter with the audience, “To the Nightingale,” was short and sweet but showed that a singer does not have to become an operatic jackhammer able to shear plaster from the back walls in order to be heard. With the fortepiano, Preston was able to take advantage of the softer side of the dynamic range.

This lent a relaxed quality to all of the songs, even “Frulingssehnsucht,” where Preston and Garrett rushed about headlong, strewing spring’s musical flowers, but especially the “Litany,” in which simplicity is the watchword for success. Preston and Garrett had a pure approach which made this the prettiest moment of the program.

Schubert calls for this brand of genuine simplicity often. His Sonatina No. 1 for violin does not call for the pyrotechnic displays of Tchaikovsky, so cannot be sold with a lot of shallow flash. Brian Haight’s violin sound was mellow, beautiful and controlled throughout. This could not have worked better for the first two movements, but by the third movement, I was ready for those anagrams, earthy and hearty. A tad more contrast on the side of gusto would have made me happy.

The clarinet of Anthony Taylor was a very musical addition to Preston’s voice for “Shepherd on the Rock.” The happy mood change after longing and lamenting was a pleasant way to end the concert.