The Boston Symphony Chamber Players took to New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall for another of one its accounts of Nationalism this afternoon. Preceding this concert were a Czech and an Austrian (Viennese) program, next will come the English. Last year, I heard their magnificent French program, which fared far better than today’s outing of Russian composers. Ironically, Sofia Gubaidulina’s late 1980s Hommage à T. S. Eliot that thrust terror and tragedy into timelessness was the emotional experience of the afternoon. The equally long Serenade in C for Strings, Op. 48, from 1880 of Peter Tchaikovsky received a highly refined, concertized interpretation that said little, if any, of life a century ago.
It was Anatoly Liadov’s Eight Russian Folksongs, for wind quintet, Op. 58, from 1906 that indisputably hit the mark all around. Both composer and BSO players depicted happier and sadder times in Russia through rare artistry that never once overlooked the simple roots and expressions of Russia’s folk music. It was as though one were seeing back a century ago through a crystallized but sympathetic auditory lens. The quintet included Elizabeth Rowe, flute, John Ferrillo, oboe, William R. Hudgins, clarinet, Richard Svoboda, bassoon, and James Sommerville, horn. Their contrasting wind instruments spectacularly colorized the music; while their breathing everything from slight nuances and voluble trilling to rhythmic dancing and unison cutoffs transformed the five into one single formidable and exhilarating authentic voice.
Never was there a doubt that soprano Jessica Rivera and an octet of BSO principals perfected their idea of the highly chromatic work of Gubaidulina, which is one of the darkest of darkest and immobile experiences in concert music. It was over one-half hour of an intense focus on cold and searing isolation, this coming in a stationary stance. With the super extroverted emotional content furnished by the composer, BSO Chamber Players focused on string and wind modernisms also furnished by the composer, presenting them as if digitized into perfection.
After the Tchaikovsky that concluded the concert, I heard someone say, “Well, they finally redeemed themselves,” something with which I would agree at least in terms of programming. Certainly this Russian salute could not have ended with Gubaidulina’s unending dirge. Certainly, too, all would have to acknowledge the BSO Chamber Players’ extraordinary flair, their being an ensemble par excellence, and their unimaginable, unsurpassable technical accomplishment. But why take this music so fast? It’s so trendy. For me, a blast from the past was what I was yearning to find in this segment of the program, not mere modernistic, contemporary up-to-datedness. I would love to have heard something of a throwback in a true contrast to the Gubaidulina. Malcolm Lowe and Haldan Martinson, violins, Steven Ansell, Viola, Jules Eskin, cello, and Edwin Barker, double bass superbly tuned and phrased the Serenade as they saw it.
Also on the program was a tiny piece of Igor Stravinsky, Pastorale, which has been heard in all kinds of arrangements from the original consisting of violin and piano to one which can be seen on YouTube featuring the musical saw. Rivera was tidy and loving in her line, but her presence was lessened, especially by the oboe. Emphasis was again on perfection, concert art.
My sense of the half-filled Jordan Hall’s reaction might be best described as betwixt and between.