Opening night at Sanders Theatre for the Boston Chamber Music Society’s 31st season yesterday featured three magnificent works from three different centuries. The Mozart Violin Sonata in A Major, K. 526, is a late work, falling between Eine kleine nachtmusik and Don Giovanni in the Köchel catalogue. Schubert’s Fantasie in F Minor piano duet, D. 940, was composed in his final year and published the year after he died. In contrast, Walton’s Piano Quartet in D Minor is an early work, written when Walton was 16, and full of youthful creativity and exuberance.
The wonderful A Major sonata is contemporary with Don Giovanni and is generally viewed as the culmination of Mozart’s expansion of the form, here giving equal weight to the keyboard and the violin. Unfortunately, there were balance problems and Harumi Rhodes’ violin was drowned out by Mihae Lee’s piano in the first movement. The balance was better in the ensuing Andante, one of Mozart’s finest, a duet that can convey great tenderness and vulnerability. The Rondo finale featured a long, intricate theme in the piano, here played with commentary from the violin, interspersed with sprightly episodes and glittering runs on both piano and violin.
Schubert’s f minor fantasy is one of the great piano duets—a product of the staggering outpouring of magnificent works in Schubert’s final year. Lee was joined by Randall Hodgkinson to give us an existentialist reading of the piece, giving the normally sad, tragic main theme an urgent feeling, emphasizing drama, especially in the Allegro Vivace Scherzo, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The performance was well-received.
Like someone daring to orate publicly for the first time in a newly-acquired foreign language, the young Walton speaks boldly in his Piano Quartet, attempting to marry the interiority and decadence of Ravel to the primitivism of Stravinsky. In terms of sheer music-making, this was the high point of the concert. The trio of Rhodes, violin, Marcus Thompson, viola, new BCMS member Raman Ramakrishnan, cello with Hodgkinson, piano, gave us a lively, honest rendering of the Walton, conveying its originality and freshness without hiding its weaknesses. The strings gave us a beautiful, sensitive, enigmatic Dorian opening, joined by the piano in producing a Ravellian atmosphere and overall a very nicely played Allegramente. The balance among the instruments was perfect and Ramakrishnan fit right in as if he had been there all along. The scherzo was all angular sounds and sharp rhythms, all in constant flux punctuated by sharp piano chords. Following was a lovely Ondine-like watery Andante tranquillo, lyrical and moody, the theme handed from one instrument to another smoothly and naturally. In sharp contrast, the Allegro molto finale was lively and savage, with Bartok-like jabs and crashing off-beat stabbing blocks of sound, material from earlier movements returning in the cyclical structure, leading to a frenetic cadence.