Friday night saw the beginning of David Deveau’s directorial Schwanengesang at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. He sat at the piano for Mozart and Brahms with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players in the first of three concerts to close his term as Artistic Director at the RCMF.
The mixed bag brought out three attractive works that had little to say to one another. Deveau and BSO Concertmaster Malcolm Lowe began with the B-flat Major Violin Sonata by Mozart (K. 454)—not quite together and not quite apart. I don’t mean to suggest they were anything but accurate and in ensemble: but while Deveau produced a smooth and fluid tone, Lowe’s sound had an appealing edge to it, with lots of bow bite in the outer movements. Conversely, Lowe’s pulse had a steadiness and regularity, while Deveau often took extended rubatos when he had the chance. This was not the Platonic ideal realization, but it caught the ear and held the attention, and finessed the problem of projecting the work out into the Shalin Liu Performance Center without over-dramatizing it. It was a conversation with two distinct points of view, rather than a single-minded interpretation.
Something of the same dynamic came into play during the closer, Brahms Horn Trio. Deveau and Lowe both returned, leaving hornist James Somerville not quite able to join their conversation on the same terms. The opening movements felt static; the three created a Brahmsian fog containing many beautiful colors which too often failed to resolve into anything clearer. The horn struggled to blend, and often felt excluded from the interplay between piano and violin. The situation did improve as the piece went on: beauty condensed into gravity during the grave slow movement, and the finale was full of camaraderie and high spirits.
Between the two musical titans came a charming and surprisingly work by a relative unknown. Unless you are a flutist (or a member of a wind quintet), you’ve likely not heard the name of Paul Taffanel (1844-1908), whose Wind Quintet from 1876 represents his only work of chamber music for more than two instruments. It was highly esteemed at the time, and remains in the wind quintet repertoire thanks in large part to Taffanel’s ability to blend and mix the disjunct timbres of this almost arbitrary combination of instruments. The quintet opens with a sonata movement that pairs a restless, obsessive opening theme with a nostalgic, wistful second subject, intertwining these two textures to great effect. The second movement is a little operatic, opening with a wide-ranging, singing theme, which leads to a proliferation of smaller themes, all with a vocal, soaring quality. The third is a frantic, playful movement in triple time that suddenly relaxes at its end, only to send you off with a surprise cadence. The quality of the BSO’s winds is currently very impressive; Elizabeth Rowe, flute; John Ferrillo, oboe; William Hudgins, clarinet; Richard Svoboda, bassoon; and Somerville, horn are all principals in the orchestra. Their relaxed tempos gave room to appreciate the attractiveness of each individual’s tone and interpretation. I personally would have liked to hear a little more sharpness in the sound, a little more idiosyncrasy. There’s more humor in the work than was found on this evening, and an evenness to the sound dulled some of the more piquant parts. I rather liked Somerville’s take on the opening theme in the second movement, which touches the extremes of the horn’s range: it wasn’t polished to absolute smoothness, it possessed a touch of growl low and a sense of striving up high. That touch of extra personality gave unexpected depth to the line. Hudgins’s later recapitulation of the theme was merely beautiful.
On Friday and Sunday Deveau will essay Haydn, Dvorak, Beethoven and Shostakovich with various partners, the latter concert entitled “Bravissimo David!: A Grand Finale to 22 Years.”
Brian Schuth graduated from Harvard with a Philosophy degree, so in lieu of a normal career he has been a clarinetist, theater director and software engineer. He currently resides in Boston after spending the last 15 years in Eastport, Maine.