Phenomenal bass player Gary Karr was the major attraction in Saturday night's Kennedy Center program by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. He was the only guest artist, the other musicians being Leonard Arner, oboe; Loren Glickman, bassoon; Lames Buswell, violin; Richard Goode, piano; and Charles Wadsworth, harpsichord, a steller collection.
The hit of the show was the Grand Duo Concertante for violin contrabass and piano by Giovanni Bottesini, himself a virtuoso bass player. The piece, is, in a word, dreadful. It is a showcase of tawdry, shallow, technical display, constructed as an Italian operatic duo with variations. The piece got the treatment it deserved. It was brilliantly played by Karr and Buswell (the piano part is of little importance) but treated as a comedy routine. There was the business of the music itself - five sheets pasted side to side, first placed upside down on two stands, then righted to a chorus of appreciative titters from the audience.
Then Karr would strike poses while Buswell fiddled, Buswell returning the compliment. Karr did all sorts of things, shoving his bass over for each new page of music, swinging his right foot back and forth while executing an accompaniment figure on the highest harmonics, and generally clowning in a most infectious way.
This vaudeville did much to compensate for the rest of the program, which consisted of skilled, rostine, pedestrian performances of a Handel trio sonata, the Brahms C minor trio and the beloved Trout Quintet of Schubert. The Brahms was episodic, lacking the warmth and power that is in the musci, redeemed only by the sensitive playing of celloist Leslie Parnas. The Trout was underpoached.
Little else can be expected. Chamber music is basically for the enjoyment of friends who like to play together. In public performance it reaches the heights only when the group has played together long enough to react as a unit, or when the performance is led by a dominant personality who a person as the late John Pennington of the London Quartet or Szekely of the Hungarian Quartet.