A near-capacity audience took great delight in the last installment on August 28 of the Boston Chamber Music Society’s 2010 Summer Series at Watertown’s Mosesian Theater that featured the return of BCMS Artistic Director Emeritus and cellist Ronald Thomas with two colleagues from points West, pianist Reiko Aizawa and violinist Steven Copes. The three compositions on the program were dispatched with charm and aplomb by the threesome.
The opener, Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brilliant (for piano and cello) was, by Ron Thomas’s charming admission, “…a light piece to hear but not so light to play, especially as one gets on in years.” The very busy and virtuosic Thomas was all over the fingerboard and beyond with scales, runs, arpeggios, etc. His bow arm produced plenty of power, and his mien was large and outgoing. His partner, pianist Reiko Aizawa, played with elegance and an almost balletic refinement, though she lacked some of the “refiner’s fire” called for in a partnership with a seasoned trouper like Thomas. According to the program notes by Barbara Leish, “…the piano is given the more virtuosic part. … Throughout the piece the cello sings while the piano romps.” Without giving up any of her refinement, Aizawa needs to bump up the decibels when she is a chamber music partner. She was not abetted in her role by the somewhat dull parlor-sized Steinway. Often the utterances of the piano demand a prominence in this literature that they did not receive in this performance. Beethoven, for example, entitled his “cello sonatas” for “…piano with the accompaniment of the cello.”
Beethoven’s early “Violin Sonata in a minor, op 23” as the program calls it, is in the urtext entitled Sonata for Piano and Violin. In this outing with excellent violinist, Steven Copes, Aizawa again seemed overly deferential. Copes produced a brilliant and powerful tone which allowed one to forget the acoustical deficiencies of the performance space. Yet he stood well in front of the keyboard and rarely looked back at the pianist; the performance failed to gel as a collaboration of equals.
Thomas gave an interesting introduction to the final work, Schumann’s Piano Trio in F major op. 80, in which he discussed how the melodies were frequently tossed mid-phrase among the three players and that the harmonies sometimes changed out of synchrony with the tunes. While there was nothing at all Ivesian about this piece it certainly had much of Schumann’s shifting, mercurial quality. After a somewhat tentative first movement, the balding Thomas walked off the stage and returned with a different bow, complaining to the audience that the first bow had even less hair than he did.
The three remaining movements were played with great generosity and excitement by all three players. The BCMS brand is still to be trusted consistently to deliver enjoyable and stress-free chamber music performances. But this reviewer can’t help closing with an aside: no cellist ever re-hired a pianist because she wasn’t loud enough.