IN: Reviews

Boston Chamber Players In Fine Fettle


One of the glories of Boston’s musical life is not only the depth, but variety, of offerings: Saturday evening at Symphony Hall can be followed by something different but of equal quality the next day in Jordan Hall, or vice versa, and often with some of the same splendid musicians.

Such was the case this last weekend, when the BSO completed a round of programs on Saturday evening with Ludovic Morlot, former apprentice conductor of the BSO, brilliantly offering a program of demanding music by Martinu, Stravinsky, Thomas and Tchaikovsky. Sunday afternoon, a number of the orchestra’s players were on hand to offer music of Ervin Schulhoff, Elliott Carter, and Brahms.

Schulhoff, a Czech who died in a concentration camp, should be heard more often if his Concertino for flute, viola and double bass is any indication of his music. The introspective opening, with several unison passages and an improvisatory flute melody accompanied by viola and bass immediately made the listener grateful for this combination. Edwin Barker’s superb bass playing proves that we should never take this instrument for granted, and Elizabeth Rowe and Steven Ansell were his equals; the ensemble was superb at every turn. Schulhoff alternated between flute and piccolo in the four movements, switching between each in the last “rondino,” A Nationalistic fervor suffuses the piece with interesting melodies, and the slow third movement seemed to function as an effective bridge to the effervescence of the last, which is based on a Carpathian-Russian love song in a cheerful minor key. It was poignant to imagine what else we would have had from the pen of this gifted composer, had the horrors of the Holocaust not intervened.

Elliott Carter is a composer this listener has often admired more than enjoyed, but his Eight Etudes and a Fantasy won me over almost immediately. Perhaps it is the virtue of brevity, with short movements each offering brilliant contrast, and a performance which could not have been better, but this was absorbing music. Fast, slow, fascinating use of register and texture, and all sorts of color from each instrument, all the while not falling into the trap of “bleeps and blips” (which seemed to me on Saturday night to have characterized the Augusta Read Thomas premiere at the BSO). Movements three and seven were fascinating: in the third, a single triad, and in the seventh one unison note, with instruments shifting timbral combinations, in each case creating a sense of calm in the gestural sea of melody and rhythm of the other movements. The final, longer movement is a fugue combining much of what has been heard in the other movements, and there is a delightful sense of evocation throughout the piece. All this leads me to rethink Carter’s music, and I’m grateful for the lesson.

Marc-Andre Hamelin, the quietly-brilliant Canadian pianist now living in Boston, joined the group for the final piece on the program, Brahms’ Piano Quintet # 3 in C minor. The brooding first movement and unusual second movement scherzo were fine enough and played beautifully, but Jules Eskin’s cello solo in the third slow movement raised the bar even further, and reaffirmed the status of this as one of Brahms most beautiful melodic output. Throughout the performance, Hamelin confirmed his status as the equal of his splendid colleagues in this brilliant ensemble, and the last movement was a delight, rewarded by a richly-deserved standing ovation.

Brian E. Jones was music director and organist at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, from 1984-2004, He has held interim positions locally at Old South Church and Memorial Church at Harvard and also was director of the Dedham Choral Society for many years.

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