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BSO Chamber Players Almost Cavort


Jessica Zhou (file photo)
Jessica Zhou (file photo)

Due to violist Steven Ansell’s having fallen ill over the weekend, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players changed Sunday afternoon’s fare in Jordan Hall. Debussy, Ibert, and Brahms replaced Spohr and Lash, while trios of Françaix and Beethoven remained as planned.

In the face of these changes, the expected high-end artistry did materialize, but not without some noticeable difficulties along the enroute. Aside from the program shifts, John Ferrillo fought a bit with his reed, having to work with it before and between movements of the Divertissement for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon by Jean Françaix. Ferrillo, Hudgins, and Svoboda kept the music “entertaining” to some degree, but not quite as “expressively down-to-earth,” as the notes posited.  Rather, this suave, urbane iteration  tickled the ear.

Before beginning, Elizabeth Rowe stood before her music stand in a meditative stance, which also netted a quiet Jordan Hall. And that tranquil state persisted nearly throughout Syrinx for solo flute by Claude Debussy. Taking a breath meant doing so thoughtfully, so directed was our attention to the slightest of nuances she carried out exquisitely on her flute. Her elegant mastery transported into complete serenity. Unfortunately, some listeners gave up during her final note; shuffling and paper ruffling spoiled a breathtaking diminuendo a niente.

Together Rowe and Jessica Zhou continued diverting the not-quite-half-filled hall with Jacques Ibert’s Entr’acte for flute and harp, Spanish music with a French flair. Zhou strummed guitar-like chords while Rowe swirled about with melodic wisps, that Flamenco penchant for the Phrygian mode everywhere in evidence. But real concentration was less on Ibert’s fluffy stuff than on the tight-knit Rowe-Zhou duo, which educed auditory pleasures impeccably, as sunlit images materialized on the virtual horizon.

Next on this fast-paced program came Beethoven’s String Trio in D, Op. 9, No. 2. The opening Allegretto according to BSOCP’s “Notes” reads, “after a couple of phrases a more playful spirit takes over and dominates the movement.” I have also long thought of this trio along similar lines, yet, Lowe, taking on a serious tone, had a different idea of the sonata-allegro from Gitter and Esbensen who conveyed as much warmth as they could. Classical period objectivity prevailed in the Scherzo: Allegro, a more impersonal feel was the result. It appeared that Lowe played the lead, the others giving way. For the Adagio, mood started taking shape. The deeper slower chords from the three instruments coming toward the end stood out as they were presented with glorious tuning and richly affecting bowing, all in all making one luscious string sound.

And for the Finale: Allegro con brio came this description, “charming simplicity,” This happy closer contains as its main theme a tune that you just cannot stop whistling. I just wish Gitter and Esbensen could have had more say in this performance, which I would have expected to offer up some of that charm and simplicity. Instead, artistry proved overbearing. Where was that country boy in Beethoven?

And still another trio came after intermission, that of Johannes Brahms, his Trio in E-flat Major for violin, horn, and piano with Messrs. Lowe, Sommerville, and Bass. This was to replace the originally scheduled Spohr Nonet, which might be a reason that balance was off from the very start of the Andante—Poco più animato. Jonathan Bass’s piano could hardly be heard. There were shaky notes and a major fluff (one of two) from Sommerville.

Not until the second movement did Bass approach the keyboard with real strength to become an equal partner. It was a spirited Scherzo, this trio of musicians coming together more and more as a whole.

In the Adagio mesto the trio found tenderness. The darkened rolled chords from Bass set a delicate tone. The final movement shot out with hunting horn calls that brought Lowe, Sommerville, and Bass onboard for an animated, first-class passage.  At last came real excitement and palpable charge.

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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