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BCMS: Good Friends of Chamber Music


Astrid Schween (file photo)
Astrid Schween (file photo)

A more congenial concert than Boston Chamber Music Society 33rd season opener Sunday would be hard to imagine. Not only did it feature the kind of music for which the term “chamber music” seems to have been invented, but it also had the warm, intimate vibe and sonority of old friends gathering for an exquisite evening.

It hardly needs saying that the musicians of the BCMS are of the highest caliber, but their performance Sunday night was truly outstanding. They played together with ease and musicality, making the works as fresh and compelling as when they were first written.

The concert opened with Haydn’s Piano Trio in C Major, Hob. XV: 21 featuring Harumi Rhodes on violin, Astrid Schween on cello, and Max Levinson on piano. Haydn must have been a delight to have as a friend. His work is almost universally cheerful, and this piece was no exception. One should not mistake a friendly surface for lack of complexity, though, for that was equally present in the singing lullaby that was the 2nd movement, molto andante. Schween’s particularly smooth and elegant legato was shown to good effect in this work. The finale: presto 3rd movement gave Rhodes an excellent workout.

The second work, Beethoven’s conversational String Trio in G major, Op. 9, No. 1 is in four movements. Rhodes and Schween were joined by violist and Music Director, Marcus Thompson. Each voice has weight in turn, but it is obviously a lively and contentious discussion which is taking place. The adagio, ma non tanto e cantabile featured a drone-like duo in the viola and cello, with the violin singing above. The scherzo: Allegro 3rd movement featured a soaring cello theme over a long and challenging moto perpetuo viola sequence which Thompson dispatched with aplomb.

Harumi Rhodes (file photo)
Harumi Rhodes (file photo)

After intermission came a less-often-played, but extremely intriguing work by a young Richard Strauss. Written when the composer was only about 20 years old, the Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 13 (1883-4) shows both his mastery of form and his thorough internalizing of the work of the giants of German music who came before him, but it also hints at broader gestures and extended harmonic language to come. I almost heard early Schoenberg in some of the surprising and beautiful harmonies. The extremely sweet coda in the Scherzo 2nd movement, and the expansive and broadly romantic Andante 3rd movement certainly stood out. Max Levinson’s piano playing was tremendous in this very challenging part.

Overall, a great start to what looks to be a very exciting season.

Elisa Birdseye, executive director of the Boston Chamber Ensemble, is an active freelance violist and principal violist of the New Bedford Symphony. Additionally, she has worked as the general manager of the New England Philharmonic and Boston Musica Viva.

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