During a humid New England heat wave, Thursday evening’s Ozawa Hall concert with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and the great Austrian pianist Rudolf Buchbinder provided unmitigated relief, despite the no-see-ums on the lawn at intermission. The eclectically classical program seemed to anticipate the season about to unfold. The E-flat piano quintet bookends—the Mozart’s K. 452 for piano and winds to start and Schumann’s opus 44 for piano and strings at the end—surrounded the lesser known Sonata for Double Bass, opus 108 by Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Bernstein’s Variations on an Octatonic Scale. As preludio excitement, regulars greeted each other after seasonal hiatus, TMC students popped in to hear mentors for part or all of the concert, and first-timers thrilled with the venue and the performers. It was a merry crowd.
Mozart’s wrote his K. 452 wind quintet during an ebullient and productive period, premiering it two days after its completion. It combines reverence with reverie, which the performance in this acoustically peerless hall amply reinforced. There was humor, too, as the bassoonist Richard Svoboda bowed before the first note of the concert eyeglasses held out in quizzical gesture, and rushed off stage, returning quickly, victorious, with reading glasses. The wait was worth it. Buchbinder’s masterful phrasing in the largo set a collaborative tone, and Mozart’s quintet offers each instrumentalist the opportunity to reflect and showcase its uniqueness. In addition to Svoboda, John Ferrillo, oboe; William Hudgins, clarinet; and James Sommerville, horn, soared, though not without occasional heat-induced woodwind waverings. For small moments in the first and last movements, over-pedaling obscured Mozartian euphoria. Also, I like the first movement at a slightly faster tempo and the last bars of the concluding rondo with a lighter touch.
Weinberg (1919-1996), who wrote 22 symphonies, 6 operas, and 17 string quartets (the latter all recorded by the esteemed Danel Quartet), was the sole member of his family to survive the Holocaust. The superb double bassist Edwin Barker did his part to introduce the humor and inventiveness of the composer, who is little known in this country. More like a suite, the Weinberg sonata for solo double bass conveys both a love song in which the instrument woos and teases the listener, not entirely successfully, as well as rusticity. However, wresting every possible sound from his instrument, Barker’s playing was a tour de force engendering admiration and deep affection in return. Barker convinced me that we should hear more concerts that include Weinberg’s diverse and moving work.
The octatonic scale with its whole and half-steps constitutes a welcome change and challenge that Bernstein relished and that flutist Elizabeth Rowe (flute and alto flute) and cellist Blaise Déjardin met with evident delight. Written in 1989 for recorder and cello in Key West (though it was hotter here yesterday), the Variations on an Octatonic Scale has been configured for flute and cello, as tonight, and for violin and cello as well. Having been premiered in 1995 at Tanglewood, it has a legacy here. The sonata’s haunting melodies unfolded in enchanting interchanges between the players.
The emotional and expansive Schumann Piano Quintet that became Clara Schumann’s signature piece is, in many ways, a piano concerto, and Buchbinder with Haldan Martinson and Alexander Velinzon (violins), Steven Ansell (viola) and Blaise Déjardin (cello) achieved that intent. As written, its barely controlled sturm und drang first movement challenges players with imperatives of tempo and impetus; which Buchbinder managed well and set the tone for a beautiful rendering, if one that seemed more like midlife affection. In its funereal in modo d’una marcia, the second movement with its initial largamente agitato drifting alternately into a dreamy state, came across with fine articulation. The third movement’s fully tracked ebullience allowed the pianist to express joyous abandon. After the final allegro, with its energetic rondo and double fugue, the crowd roared. Buchbinder has played all over the planet, and I hope we will hear him more often in Massachusetts.
The magic of chamber music in Ozawa Hall is incomparable and addictive.