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BCMS and Krista River take on Röntgen, Mozart, Mendelssohn with Lyricism and Character


The Boston Chamber Music Society performed a program of Mozart, Röntgen, and Mendelssohn for a sizable and responsive audience in Sanders Theatre on Sunday, April 18. Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat major, K. 493 and Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in B-flat major, Op. 87 were likely familiar to most, though the Lyrische Gänge from the far less performed Dutch composer Julius Röntgen offered a certain rarity to the program. While this particular evening didn’t quite err on the side of risk-taking programming that new Artistic Director Marcus Thompson discussed in his interview with BMInt at the beginning of the season, it did possess a certain air of youthful energy and dramatic character. The emphasis on this element of performance practice may very well function within BCMS’s growing interest in cultivating a new audiences and “connect[ing] to the next generation,” which undoubtedly contributed to effective interpretations of the pieces (especially the Mozart). Admittedly, despite being near the end of a season of such efforts, I still found myself to be one of very few audience members under the age of 30. Nonetheless, BCMS has unquestionably sustained a top-tier performance standard and exhibited no less on Sunday evening.

Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat major is filled with compelling dialogue between piano and strings. Although the performance was not without its surface flaws, the group managed to catch effectively the expressive qualities of the work. The conversational underpinning of the piece relies heavily on a pianist who can convincingly construct a pronounced, and sometimes domineering, character. Mihae Lee carried this role with brilliance and conviction. The rest of the ensemble also displayed a strong ability to recognize comic gestures in the music. While the Allegro and Allegretto well delivered, if at times inarticulate, the Larghetto was undoubtedly the most successful movement of the three, exhibiting a near-perfect sense of pacing and expressive vitality.

Mezzo-soprano Krista River gave a stunning performance Röntgen’s Lyrische Gänge for voice, viola, and piano to poems by Friedrich Theodor Vischer.. Her resonant, rich voice had palpable substance, seeping into the walls with each lyrical line. Her dramatic pacing was dead-on for the second song, Stille, with potent and impassioned lyricism that debunks the antiquated notion that German cannot be an inherently beautifully sung language. The viola and voice often seemed disconnected, however: a symptom of some truly terrible writing for viola within this ensemble’s context, and no discredit to Thompson, who has proven himself a seasoned musician of the Boston chamber scene. Despite some truly beautiful harmonies and lush, expressive vocal writing, Lyrische Gänge is little more than bad Brahms. It seems reasonable that the composer did not feel inclined to have the work published or performed, especially since at that point in his career (late 1920s) he appeared to be more interested in progressive styles. Regardless, the performance was no doubt worthwhile, fully exploiting the talents of guest artist Krista River, and nicely contributed to the program.

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in B-flat major provided the most consistent and polished performance of the evening. The Allegro vivace was tightly knit, filled with contrasting disposition to the Andante scherzando and convincingly portrayed by the animated performance of violinists Ida Levin and Harumi Rhodes. Cellist Astrid Schween shone beautifully in a gripping, dynamic performance of the Adagio e lento. Energetic and Vibrant, the Allegro molto vivace closed the performance with a persuasive climax. Again, this performance to emitted a new sense of vibrancy from an ensemble looking forward towards a new audience that demands a more energetic and visceral performance approach.

BCMS will return to Sanders Theatre on May 16 for a program of Haydn, Villa-Lobos, and Chausson.

Peter Van Zandt Lane is a composer and bassoonist who performs regularly in the Boston area. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Music Composition and Theory at Brandeis University.

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