Niblo's Concert Saloon
Manager / Director:
Price: $1; $1.50 reserved
Chamber (includes Solo)
9 June 2016
Refers to the concert as the “fifth” in the series.
“The fifth [sic] concert . . . was attended by a very large audience last evening. If there was ever any doubt that Mlle. de Katow is the first of living violoncellists it must have been dispelled by her performance last night. The classic music selected tried all her powers over the instrument, and more than sustained her previous reputation as an artist. It is true she had an advantage on this occasion in the superior condition of the instrument, which had been previously somewhat affected in tone by the climate, but is now refitted and in perfect order. Of Mr. Wehli we can only say that he astonished his audience by the immense power and delicacy of execution in his fantasia on Les Huguenots, which he first played to a Parisian audience. The manner in which he took the octaves and sixths, which follow in rapid succession throughout the whole piece, was marvelous, and evoked surprise and applause in about equal proportion. The labor of the artist must have been immense, but the execution was most brilliant. These delight.”
“The fourth concert of Mdlle. De Katow and Mr. James M. Wehli took place at Niblo’s Saloon last evening, before a large and elegant audience, and a host of critics and professional gentlemen. Mdlle. De Katow played with the same equal excellence which has from the first distinguished her violoncello performances.
Her tone is very tender and sympathetic, her intonation always pure and true, and her expression, though not passionate, is warm and touching. The steadiness of her nerves is noteworthy for had she been in the least degree timid, the abominable and unmusicianly accompaniment to her first piece, Schubert’s ‘Serenade’ would surely have disconcerted her.
Miss Laura Harris is certainly improving; she still attempts more than her education warrants; but her coloratura last evening was not only brilliant, but in general, correct. Ambition to do well is praiseworthy, but ambitions to do, whether well or not, deserve neither praise nor support. Now is her golden time to study; if she does not correct her tendency to overdo her bold dashes at execution beyond her vocal tendencies, she will become confirmed in faults for which her youth may plead excuse, but for which she will meet with harsher judgment in later years.
Mr. Wehli is unquestionably the star of the party, and he is a star that grows brighter and more luminous the more he is seen. The first impression he made, noticed as it was, was certainly the weakest, for his influence has grown stronger and stronger with each performance. People do not rightly apprehend the secret of his charm. They see him at the piano-forte; they observe the graceful pose of his hands; they hear passages of the utmost delicacy, brilliantly and rapidity, [illeg.] passages running hither and thither with wonderful velocity; but they see no movement, no excitement; they are conscious that there is no labor, so they do not wonder, but they yield to a burst of uncontrollable admiration at the close, and reiterate their demand for repetition, unconscious that they have been listening to the perfection of mechanism to the accomplishment of an artist who feels his power, and uses it with the conscious strength of a magician. In all that he does we can detect no flaw; every phase of his execution is a specialty, because all is equally good.
Still his left hand execution, especially in every form of scale passage, may be called a specialty, not because it is superior in brilliancy and certainty to his right hand, but because it is more perfect than that of any other player; we do not think we can [illeg.] any pianist we have heard.
Mr. Wehli is also an artist in [illeg.]; his studies of execution are most delicately conceived and exquisitely executed, and his contrasts, never exaggerated, impart a degree of finish to his performance which strike even the casual listener with a sense of unobtrusive perfection. He played his concert Polka, of which we have spoken before, with all the brilliancy which marked his first performance.
His second selection, ‘Le Ruisseau,’ was distinguished by those exquisitely-shaded scale passages, than which we have never heard anything more fluent, even and delicate. The ‘Barcarole’ which followed, is a charming composition, though he has adopted, perhaps unconsciously, the close of the Serenade or Barcarole in Flotow’s Stradella and was played with a graceful fluency and more passion than we thought he possessed.
His closing piece, which was announced on the programme as having been pronounced by the English and French critics to be the ‘chef d’oeuvre of the piano-forte compositions,’ is more wonderful as a vehicle for the display of certain classes of execution, than as a composition, although it is an able and ingenious work. It abounds with difficulties, such as prolonged passages of thirds and sixths, for both hands, which could not be accomplished with such precision, distinct articulation and rapidity by any technique less perfect and equable than that which Mr. Wehli has achieved.
Their execution is certainly a feat of extraordinary dexterous manipulation, and we concur in all the praise which has elsewhere been awarded to him. It is a performance which may well excite admiration, for it is unique and unequaled in its way. We concede to Mr. Wehli the possession of splendid abilities; if he lacks the tenderness, the passion, the originality and the bravura of Gottschalk, he possesses a technique as perfect, a style at once quiet and impressive, and an artistic perception of all the nuances of coloring and effect, which charm and enchain the attention and make him a dangerous but worthy rival of our great American pianist. He was again and again encored and we record his success as deservedly triumphant. The instrument he played on was one of Chickering & Sons’ finest Grands, and it would be impossible to conceive an instrument more perfectly adapted to his style.
The quality of its tone is capable of every shade of expression; his brilliant whispers were heard with silvery distinctness, not a note was lost, and in passages of power it sprang forth to the touch with a rich volume of sound, which completely satisfied the ear. He has not yet conquered the full ‘singing’ power of the instrument, which is one of its distinguishing beauties, and which Gottschalk managers [sic] with such masterly skill and [illeg.], but he will doubtless achieve it ere long. Mr. Wehli proclaims the Chickering piano the finest instrument in every respect that he has ever played upon.
Signor Fellini has a light and pleasing baritone voice, and sings in good style and with feeling.”
”As for Mlle. de Katow, I believe I can say that she has surmounted the difficulties of her instrument as much as a woman can; sadly, that’s not all, and she’s far from perfect. [Comments about how women do not have the strength to play like a man] . . . her fingers have too much delicacy to bend with a firm precision, like a steel screw. . . . It results, in Mlle. de Katow, in a certain lack of clearness, or rather a kind of indecision that is like a veil over the playing. . . . Mlle. de Katow is assuredly an artist of great merit, and I doubt that another woman could displace her; but she isn’t at the level of the foremost masters of her art, as Mlle. Urso, who is regarded as one of the greatest violinists, is.
Now I hasten to say that, if Mlle. de Katow is the pearl of the duo that M. Strakosch has brought to America, her partner, M. Wehli, is surely the diamond. M. Wehli is a complete pianist; he’s one of those artists for whom their art has neither difficulties nor secrets, and can do everything well enough—not following their talent, but following circumstances—to be placed in the first rank rather than the second or third. The piano has created, in the past 25 years, a constellation of artists like this among whom reputation, milieu, success, and this nuance or that predilection, establish a difference rather than a distance. Some are named Litz [sic], others Thalberg, or Shopin [sic], or Prudent, or Gottshalk [sic]—or perhaps Vehli [sic]—without which one could say precisely who is the first and who is the last, or why this one rather than that one. It would be foolhardy, doubtless, to place Mr. Wehli, right away and without having examined more deeply, in this legion of honor; nevertheless I am convinced that his place is there, and that if he doesn’t take it, it will be because luck, not talent, is lacking. He still has to prove himself in certain areas; he hasn’t yet shown all the delicacy, passion, originality and bravura of Gottschalk; but he has perfect technique, a pure style, and a feeling for nuances that are the fundamental bases of his art. . . .
One has also heard . . . a young American singer, Miss Laura Harris, who has only one fault: she’s a little young. . . . Miss Harris has a pretty voice, fresh, vibrant, supple and congenial, but she asks sometimes more of herself than she can give, the effort isn’t the power “—Don’t force your talent, says the moralist, you will not do anything graceful.”
“The merit of the newly arrived pianist, Wehli, consists in an uncommon mastery of the resources of mechanism with both hands. Scales, whether chromatic or diatonic, single, or in thirds, sixths, octaves, the various arpeggio, trills, etc., he accomplishes with much perfection and facility, in the most rapid time. He has the technical means at his command, wherewith to overcome the material obstacles of the most difficult compositions. But he is one of those virtuosos, whose hands we desire to see while he plays, because he does not touch the feelings in even the faintest degree. Where is the use of all the ‘execution’ in the world, unless the poetic, soulful breath of life enlivens the tone form under the fingers of the performer? When we listen to Wehli, we sat to ourselves: ‘He must have practiced with wonderful patience and perseverance.’ But the only true virtuosity is that, in which we forget the player in his playing. He who cannot accomplish this, belongs to the category of vulgar rope dancers. M. Wehli plays his own compositions in preference. These pieces, however, do not deserve the name of compositions; they are concocted out of the most ordinary material, with the view of displaying this or that pianistic difficulty. However, M. Levi—we beg pardon, M. Wehli—desires to make money; his public is also mainly formed from the amusement seeking mass. The following ‘puff’ which was prefixed, by the management we presume, in the programme, is a curiosity, even among those curiosities of humbug, imposters and puffery, which so fearfully corrupt the public atmosphere of New York. Immortalise it by publication, Mr. Dwight; but when our grandchildren consult your musico-historical pages, heaven forbid they should conclude that, in our day, the New York musical public was entirely composed of ignorants, without the knowledge necessary to form an opinion of their own regarding the merit of an artist, though this must be decidedly the conclusion of the individual who framed the following:
Mr. Wehli will perform, this evening, his celebrated Fantasia on airs from Meyerbeer's Grand Opera, the Huguenots, pronounced by the Paris and London Musical Critics to be the chef d'oeuvre of Pianoforte compositions. The passages, which consists [sic] of sixths and thirds, are such as have never been introduced in modern pieces; they have been considered an impossibility, but Mr. Wehli has overcome the difficulty, and performs them with perfect ease. There are certain passages taken alternately by each hand, but the subject is still preserved intact. The finale is a perfect hurricane of octaves, amongst which the Charade [Chorale?] of the Opera is distinctly heard.
The Manager draws the attention of the public to this piece, it being a composition the playing of which seems incredible. When its performance took place in Paris before Erards, in the presence of Thalberg, Liszt, Rubenstein, Leopold De Meyer, Dreyschock and other most famous Pianists and Composers, it was considered the greatest feat ever performed on the Pianoforte.