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Peskiness, Swooning with Thibaudet and BSCP


Jean Yves Thibaudet at BSO on Thursday (Dominick Reuter photo)
Jean Yves Thibaudet at BSO on Thursday (Dominick Reuter photo)

Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joined the Boston Symphony Chamber Players at Jordan Hall for an all-French program on Sunday afternoon. After his raveworthy Ravel performance Thursday evening with the BSO, there had to be an extra dose excitement for this chamber concert.

Thibaudet and BSCP animated Francis Poulenc’s Sextet to endearing peskiness and lovingness, while Gabriel Fauré’s Opus 15 quartet played off muscle rather than off breath. And when is the last time anyone has heard a Dixtour? This one by Jean Françaix, a weave of fun and complex webbing, spun out with utmost French clarity and the BSCP lustrous polish we have come to expect.

Catchy tunes trained on a kind of classicism hurtled out in Dixtour. But in between these finely spun phrases and motives, Françaix can, not infrequently, appear to get tangled up with himself. There must be other listeners who might feel much the same way. So, I began to wonder if maybe there might be a PhD candidate out there somewhere who would take this matter to task and discern for the rest of us something of Françaix’s seemingly meandering passages, or “entanglements.” Maybe these passages are meant to mean modern, in the sense of their being inscrutable.

Certainly BSCP’s ten artists enjoyed spinning out this delightful musical thread that sometimes suggested the circus and other times evoked instrumentalists talking it up amongst themselves—and they did so quite eloquently, especially in the final movement. There were bundles of notes and therefore lots of chances to hear every instrument in a variety of roles. These five string and five wind players spoke and danced in the most refined of ways. Sparkling colors abounded.

More skilled at modulation and quick surprise is the older Poulenc. Still further, his Sextet for Wind Quintet and Piano winks, mocks, and pretends to vex, before falling in love again. Thibaudet, Rowe, Ferrillo, Hudgins, Svoboda, and Sommerville were top flight pretenders. Now we are on a dangerously racing machine, next we are swooning to gushing melodic follow-ups. These half dozen players ratcheted up a fearsome frolic that held our collective breaths.

No mincing of phrases as the sextet took every sharp corner and lyrical bend to the extremes of Poulenc-mania. The Andantino sang and sang with tongue-in-cheek melancholy that could earn a crocodile tear.  

Guest pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet with Messrs. Lowe, Ansell, and Eskin came together as one in Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor by the oldest composer of the three Frenchman featured in the afternoon program. All three share much of the same palette of harmony and love of modulation, if not entirely the same esprit. However, Fauré’s modulations can come in spurts as well as in torrents. As to harmony and modulation, these four collaborators were on the same page. Their reading of that page, though, turned decidedly to stoutness, one might even say that, at times, their interpretation rose to bravura levels.

Lyricism gave way to the declarative, weightlessness to heftiness. For the Adagio, the players adopted the dirge and tragedy scenes of, say, a Mahler or even a Beethoven. Yes, this was a spirited—urgent—iteration. That it skirted a newer fresher French fashion of Fauré by returning to more common modes of expression had great appeal as witnessed Sunday afternoon with the applause-after-applause. With such a surfeit, though, I longed for some contrast.  

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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