A near capacity audience of 400 summer classical music-deprived souls attended the second of four concerts of the 2010 summer music series of the Boston Chamber Music Society on Saturday, August 14, at the Mosesian Theater of the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown. BCMS’s move to this unusual venue for classical music was occasioned by the temporary unavailability of Longy’s Pickman Hall, currently under renovation. I wish I could report that the move was a good choice.
Although the location was promising, with its acres of free parking, grassy parks, historic structures, and a convenient restaurant, the actual auditorium was unfit for unamplified music. The Mosesian Theater is a fan-shaped black box with lots of absorbent material. Though the highly raked seating and advanced lighting system allowed for excellent sight lines, the acoustics were almost entirely anechoic. This served well for the amplified introductory remarks of BCMS spokesman Wen Ho but made for a shockingly muted sound from the baby grand Steinway rented from the M. Steinert firm. A persistent bass drone from the HVAC did not help, either.
Mihae Lee’s performance of the Chopin Ballade in G minor, op. 23 was seriously handicapped by the dullness of the instrument as well as its lack of power and bass. She was also put off her marks by the dramatically slow late entrance of an elderly couple into the front row during the first moments of the performance.
If the evening promised more dullness after the Chopin, it brightened with the appearance of two excellent string players, violinist Sheryl Staples and cellist Julie Albers. The sound was almost orchestral in contrast to what preceded it. Much of the room’s initial muted qualities had evidently been due to the piano. (Perhaps Yamaha can rise to the challenge of replacing the refractory Steinway B)
The performance of the Kodály Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7 was hardly dull. The players were highly alert to one another and inflected the score with brilliance, power, and nuance. This was first-rate music making and this reviewer can gainsay none of the dynamic duo’s artistic decisions.
For the evening’s finale, Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E-flat major, op. 47, the Misses Staples, Albers and Lee were joined by violist, Rebecca Young in a barnburner of a performance. This is the kind of show that their loyal audiences have come to expect from BCMS. Artistic director, Marcus Thompson has delivered again! The remaining concerts in the summer series will be on August 21 and 28.