IN: Reviews

BCMS is Puckish to Profound


Jennifer Frautschi, Mihae Lee and Julie Albers (Mike Rocha photo)

On Saturday, August 13th, a large Cantabrigian crowd eschewed the lure of a pleasant summer evening and flowed into the caramel confines of Longy School’s Pickman Hall for the second of four Hamel Summer Series concerts presented by the Boston Chamber Music Society.  The BCMS, now in its thirtieth season, consists of a core group of eight musicians, led by Artistic Director and violist Marcus Thompson.  This evening’s concert featured one of these members, inestimable pianist Mihae Lee, and three giga-gifted guest performers.  The musical offerings spanned three centuries and myriad musical genres.

In and of itself, the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) spans myriad musical genres, and the first composition on the program, Three Pieces for Solo Clarinet (1918), written in the waning days of World War I, seems nothing less than a microcosm of his diverse stylistic output.  This succinct set consists of flavors ranging from Russian folk to neoclassical to jazz and got the evening off to a multifaceted and upbeat start.  Clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois produced tones that ran the gamut from silky to impish, projecting an aura of centered calm while deftly handling the rapid musical turns of phrase.  Her technique was nimble and squawk-free; her presentation refreshingly straightforward.

Next up, we were treated to one of the sources of Stravinsky’s neoclassical experimentation, the music of J. S. Bach (1685-1750).  The Chaconne from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in d minor for Solo Violin (BWV 1004) made for quite the fascinating juxtaposition with the Stravinsky; the former a study in puckish brevity, the latter, a massive work of unparalleled musical depth and complexity.  Of the three partitas Bach penned for unaccompanied violin, only the second contains a chaconne, and this final movement is more than double the length of the four previous sections combined.  In this theme and variation tour de force Bach presents a four-measure subject and goes on to craft a grand total of 64 variations.  The truly jaw-dropping aspect of this work is the way in which JSB manages to intricately weave together a repeating four-note bass line and an overarching melody, this on an instrument with decidedly limited harmonic capabilities.  The result is a lofty piece of musical architecture that pushes the violin and its performer to their limits.   Fortunately, soloist Jennifer Frautschi was more than up to the challenge.  Her playing was poised and well-articulated, with a sweeping dynamic range and a minimum of errant mouse squeaks from her cooperative 1722 Stradivarius.  Her tempo seemed to flag a tad in the D Major middle section, but I’m nitpicking.  All told, a masterful rendition that precipitated a standing ovation, complete with whistles and even a smattering of enthusiastic whoops.  It seems borderline miraculous that a sound tapestry of that profundity can come from the pen of one man and the performance of one musician on one small instrument.

With barely enough time for her Strad to cool down, Ms. Frautschi was back onstage with clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois and pianist Mihae Lee, tucking in to Bela Bartók’s (1881-1945) Contrasts.  Written specifically for compatriot Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti and American jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman, this piece admirably showcases the two disparate instruments while exploiting their delectable combination of crunchy and buttery tones.  Contrasts more than lives up to its name, with bipolar mood swings covering the spectrum from edgy to brash to downright frenetic.  Not surprisingly, Ms. Frautschi continued her high caliber of play, and de Guise-Langlois was spot-on as well.  Relegated to a supporting role, pianist Mihae Lee nonetheless shone through as rock-solid and unflaggingly attentive, seemingly enjoying the dashes of musical paprika Bartók included in the form of interspersed glissandos.  The overall effect was one of coherent and vibrant musicality, ending with horsehairs flying.

Rounding out the evening was the earthy and visceral music of Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904).  Preternaturally active violinist Frautschi and pianist Mihae Lee were joined by Julie Albers on cello as they recreated the “Dumky,” aka Piano Trio in e minor, Opus 90.  This unusually crafted piece consists of six sections (dumky), each dumka being an original work based on that Bohemian folk form.  All of Dvorák’s dumky contain alternating plaintive and rollicking sections, resulting in a rather dizzying emotional ebb and flow.  While the soulful laments could bring a tear to one’s eye, the unbridled enthusiasm of the accompanying dances made it difficult to stay seated.  With soulful tunes and hummable melody lines, Dvorák paints a vivid moodscape.  Frautschi shone yet again; Lee was secure and crisp on piano, and cellist Albers had a consistently round tone and smooth phrasing.  This was an impassioned performance that might have had old Antonin dancing in the aisles.

Overall, a stimulating spectrum of music vividly brought to life with consistently top-drawer playing.  Definitely worth spending a perfect summer evening indoors. … And the mini-creampuffs at the post-concert reception weren’t so bad either!

The two remaining concerts of the Boston Chamber Music Hamel Summer Series take place on Saturday, August 20 and Saturday, August 27.

Michael Rocha is a self-described “long-ago” music teacher, a long-time music enthusiast and pianist, and a short-time Web designer:  He has an MS in Meteorology from MIT.

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