Johannes Brahms is not generally considered a composer for young musicians. Most of his own early work went up in flames, a drastic form of self-criticism, and the characteristic tone of his surviving works is more often that of autumn than of spring. Ripeness, deliberation, intimacy and nostalgia, balance and moderation are the Brahmsian virtues. These are not qualities we usually expect of our young performers, who are mostly kept busy banging out Liszt rhapsodies, Prokofiev sonatas, Paganini caprices and concertos--music that calls for speed, power, accuracy, and hand-and-eye coordination. Thoughtfulness, which is what you need for Brahms, can come later, if at all.
This tradition was severely shaken yesterday afternoon in the Wolf Trap Barns where a half-dozen young competition-winners concluded a Brahms Festival with a program of his vocal and chamber music. Undoubtedly these musicians will perform Brahms with deeper insight in 10 or 20 years, but what they offered yesterday was remarkable for its poise, professionalism and fidelity to Brahmsian virtues.
It may be relevant that the geographical limits of the competition went as far as Philadelphia but excluded New York, traditionally a center for talented young musicians and a prime breeding ground for the tough, brilliant, deadpan style that perennially wins competitions. There was no evidence of that style yesterday; it would not have suited the music or won the competition.
Perhaps the most impressive performers in an imposing array were the violin-piano duo of Michi Sugiura and Seung-Hee Hyun, two 19-year-old students from the Curtis Institute who played the D minor sonata, Op. 108. Hyun's piano technique was beautifully polished in this work, which challenges the pianist as much as the violinist, and Sugiura's playing was superbly musical, penetrating beyond the notes to the inner message. If she had any problems, they were slight and technical--matters of fingering, balance, and so on--exactly the opposite of what one expects in a young performer.
Clarinetist Ronald G. Aufmann showed similar virtues in the Sonata in F minor, and he had an exciting partnership with pianist Muriel Bennett Price, a senior at Howard University who is about to enter Peabody, and from whom we may expect to hear more. Pianist Joseph Holt played two intermezzi, a rhapsody and a ballade with flawless technique, a fine sense of form and very subtle nuances of dynamics and tempo. Baritone Donald Collup, singing eight lieder, showed a good sense of style, but his part of the program was hardly long enough to get his voice fully warmed-up.