in: Reviews

February 19, 2018

Sensation-Endowed Debussy, Heart-Pumping Walton


Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet

Boston Chamber Music Society opened with a sobering serenade from Beethoven Sunday at Sanders. The famous Debussy trio sonata, well-endowed with sensation, and a heart-pumping Walton followed.

Beethoven’s Serenade in D Major for Flute, Violin and Viola, Op. 25 grated somewhat. Jennifer Frautschi’s muscular violin seemed to have caught guest artist Paula Robison in a hammer lock, the competitions resulted in overly bright flutings. For more than a few portions of the serenade, the two along with violist Marcus Thompson packed Sanders with almost bigger-than-life sound. The many empty seats only promoted the rafter bouncing. 

Lightness went missing in the lively action. Rather than teasing out the six highly varied movements, the trio impressed with in-bounds tempos and mostly familiar phrasing. Some endings played up quite cutely drew chortles, while making obvious the trio’s otherwise mostly dutiful serenading.   

Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp travels deeper and deeper into mature depths. Composed three years before his death in 1918, this sonata stands alone, remaining one of the most finely etched examples in all of chamber repertoire. With Paula Robison and harpist Jessica Zhou joining Thompson, Debussy’s timbral dispositions took root almost immediately and from there continued to flower into a sonic banquet.

The Pastorale’s distilled evocations fanned through Sanders by way of these elite musicians. In the Interlude appears a crescendo starting after slightly whispered tones, which BCMS delivered with spontaneous grasp. After a complementary diminuendo, they closed with breathless delicacy. Extraordinary ensemble understanding extended to those shadowy mysteries of the kind that only Debussy can conjure as he did in the Finale.
Nineteen-year old William Walton composed his Piano Quartet in D Minor between 1919 and 1921. In 1955, he would revise it. Frautschi, Thompson, Raman Ramakrishnan, cello, and Andrew Armstrong, piano engaged in a chest-thumping traversal, never letting up on even the slightest detail of this half-hour epic.

Here was fully committed, live music-making. The action onstage included Armstrong’s diving into rapid octaves, Ramakrishnan’s rhythmically undulating body, Frautschi’s lookout for cues, and Thompson’s taking time during a brief rest to stretch his left hand’s fingers already having played so many notes.

Sir William Turner Walton

Walton’s English modality only glanced at Ravel and Stravinsky among others. And how many attending the Sunday afternoon concert had heard the Piano Quartet before? Whether or not listeners knew Walton’s music including this youthful chamber entry, no one could have come to Sanders expecting to be taken for a ride of his life with BCMS at the helm.

Sea cliffs of sounds poured out of the BCMS’s charged Allegramente, their contagious jolliness with chiffing bows shifted to grandness in the Allegro Scherzando, then the four casting Andante Tranquillo to ethereal planes. Fired-up momentum sparked on in the Allegro Molto. A triumphal engagement from the four, who were obliged to circumvent one Walton juncture after another such as flairs of fugato, finally made it home in one ecstatic close.

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).


  1. Prof. Patterson’s reaction to the Beethoven stumps me. I thought the group achieved the romp that Beethoven intended.

    Comment by Martin Cohn — February 20, 2018 at 12:11 pm

  2. I agree with Martin Cohn. I found it positively delightful.

    Comment by Susan Miron — February 20, 2018 at 7:11 pm

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