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GWO and BSO Musicians Tangle


“Leipzig Week in Boston” wrapped Sunday with the Gewandhaus Quartett and the Boston Symphony Chamber Players (and guests) in a joint performance. The GQ gave “The Lark” quartet everything Haydn could have wanted. It was fit for a castle. BSO’s Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet made a sonic sensation. Next came a pleasant ride through a cowboy west with Lukas Foss’s For Aaron. Back to Europe with the 16-year old Mendelssohn’s string octet which united both GQ and BSCP.  This concert ends a week celebrating the launch of a “five-year alliance unprecedented in the world of orchestral music.”

What else was special was to hear all this in Symphony Hall rather than the usual Jordan Hall. Was it that they all felt more at home here? But the Hall looked quite vacant.

The lark in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Quartet in D for strings, Op. 64, No. 5 began singing in silvery tones to a backdrop of mirthful childlike voices. The expanse of space in Symphony Hall became castle-like, just the right kind of distance and the absolute right kind of clarity. Opulent courtly goings-on permeated the GQ rendering. Rounded serenity issued forth, the strings inhaled sweetly accented air with subtle seriousness only a breath away, all this in the slow movement.

The Menuet’s refrain brought grace notes that the GQ tickled. They took the measure of the dance’s trio, as with all of this Haydn, with an ongoing classical cadence superbly tailored. Even in this castle the Finale. Vivace showed us there could also be folkish ways. The simply joyous motivic pronouncements coming over and again strangely foreshadowed Copland. The maturing Haydn imaging through modulations, transitions, and the like could not have been more vividly drawn than it was by this foursome.  

Next came BSO’s Chamber Players’ turn. They chose not an American work but rather one by an Eastern European. György Ligeti’s Bagatelles went supersonic with the BSCP. The first bagatelle pulsed on the fringes of feeling. Its lightness went to darkness in the second bagatelle. Mystery called, phantoms becoming more outspoken. The players projected this colorfully in the most finely etched lines and intersections of lines, dissonance and consonance piercing Symphony Hall.  In the Béla Bartók in memoriam Adagio. Mesto, a remarkably tactile dirge, fashioned acoustical phenomena including that of “beats,” or an interference pattern between two sounds of slightly different frequencies. The fourth bagatelle shadowed Haydn’s “barn dance” and evoked still more redolence of our Western hero Copland.

Noticeable it was that the representation of our United States of America came just once in a program weighted toward Europe, especially since we learned that this new liaison aims to bring more American music to Europe. Our country’s music absents itself from there far too much of the time.

One supposes that in keeping with a program steering toward the light side, the Aaron Copland salute from Lukas Foss might pose as a double whammy for the Americans. Pure pleasantry, some bluesy-ness, wrangler’s quasi-swagger, and more inhabits Foss’s chamber work for a quartet of strings, a quartet of winds, a trio of brass, and percussion. A somewhat directionless effort, For Aaron best resembles a scenic trip out west, the locomotive coming upon one little town after another, each much like the one before it. BSO assistant conductor Moritz Gnann synced with the Chamber Players and BSO members promoting a show of glamorous instrumental color and dazzling control to be prized. 

Boston Symphony Chamber Players and Gewandhaus Quartett (Robert Torres photo)

Felix Mendelssohn’s teenage Octet in E-flat Major for Strings, Op. 20 allowed few rests and not all that many doublings for the only GQ-BSCP joint effort. The string writing encompassed an astonishing range of big sounds to intimate natures every one of which was carried by out the two pairs in extraordinarily refined Romantic flair.

Wouldn’t we like to know the inside scoop on what such a pairing had on this spectacular performance? This Mendelssohn affords so much scope for play.

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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