The Boston Chamber Music Society aptly dubbed its first of two Fitzgerald Theater (at Cambridge Rindge and Latin) concerts “Parisian Providence,” where wisdom was inarguably exhibited throughout the Sunday afternoon. Boston’s highly touted ensemble sprang two pieces of Maurice Ravel that can challenge listeners, then, continued on with erudite iterations of Enescu and Franck on Sunday.
Taking some five years to complete his Violin Sonata no. 2 in G Major, Ravel seems to have gone deeply into exploring juxtapositions, even possibly non-sequiturs to cross up the mind’s musical ear. The program’s first duo of violinist Harumi Rhodes and pianist Max Levinson matched up perfectly. Magnificent fashion was on display.
Both summoned highly refined intrigue. Ravel’s Sonata sounded spotless and airy. The playing of the interior movement, Blues, eschewed the vernacular and instead went all out for a night at the Ritz. The bluesy violin slides wisped, the piano vamping carried a precise comportment. Their super sophistication also made a Miro-like painting of Ravel that smiled and fascinated at every turn. The Theater’s acoustics even played into the cool effect of viewing a canvas at some distance.
Leaving his orchestral genius and pristine harmonic stamp up to but a violin and a cello in his Sonata, Ravel very well had to be asking listeners to seek out that which can be implied by such limited forces. Also a perfect fit, the next duo of violinist Yura Lee and cellist Colin Carr clarified further still the already clarified writing of the French master. This duo also changed course from a Ravelian fineness and lightness to a more muscular, outgoing affair.
Yet, somehow, with their astounding physicality from pizzicato to quadruple stopping (bowing all four strings to produce the idea of four-part harmony) coupled with an immense mental grasp of what is there on the page and that business of the implied, the duo stayed smart. By forgoing the path of thrills, Lee and Carr stimulated neural networks, by designing a path and structure to their focus.
Most probably, much of the good-sized turnout would hear George Enescu’s Concertpiece for Viola and Piano for the first time, maybe even find this a first introduction to this infrequently played composer. And while Enescu speaks a familiar musical language, elevated levels of concentrated attention are required. Another perfectly matched duo, this time of violist Dmitri Murrath and Max Levinson, generated a halo of warmth measure by measure during the two-movement 1906 competition piece for the Paris Conservatory. This pair remained mindful as much of the piece’s finely woven melodic twists and harmonic subtleties as of the quiet outbreaks of virtuosity and delicate expressivity. Theirs was a beautiful, thought-provoking invitation to listen rapturously.
Yura Lee, Harumi Rhodes, Dimitri Murrath, Colin Carr, and Max Levinson returned after intermission for César Franck’s Piano Quintet in F Minor, promoting infinite unity amongst themselves, and showering that quality upon the big 35-minute extravaganza. Murrath pointed the scroll of his viola toward the stage apron, allowing his sound better to reach both performers and listeners. Power sweeps in climactic passages dispelled to some extent the preliminary notion that the acoustics of the Fitzgerald Theater diminish the impact of music-making. An artful edifice rose at the hands of these superb performers.
It was as if the five knew each other from day one in the way that they almost heedlessly drove through unisons and doublings into contrasting material, or pitched the cyclical themes in Franck’s writing. Tumult, tragedy, terror, striving, that which lies innate midst Franck’s tonal vacillations and rhythmic pulsations, surfaced intellectually and, at times, even abstractly. As to the Lento movement, relaxation replaced mood. Impeccable musical etiquette kept this listener tuned in for most of this performance, though, midway through the concluding Allegro non troppo, ma con fuoco, emotion seemed to be begging its turn.
Boston Chamber Music Society’s players transported us into Parisian haute couture—c’est magnifique!