Boston Chamber Music Society inaugurated its Sanders Theater season Sunday with Beethoven, Britten, and Brahms works which departed from conventional expectations, and at the last-minute, on his birthday, and on the day he became a US citizen, violinist Markus Placci, ably replaced Ayano Ninomiya, who could not be there.
This opening concert also augers well for a sumptuous 36th season for BCMS, consonant with its aim of spreading the love of chamber music in its various combinations. This year will include nearly monthly concerts at Sanders, plus events at other neighborhood venues. The group also offers masterclasses, open rehearsals, and useful influence and instructions for young musicians and those destined to create entrepreneurial music enterprises.
Beethoven wrote his Quintet in C Major, Opus 29, “The Storm” in 1801, when he was 31. Its classical form reflects Beethoven’s admiration for his teacher, Haydn, as well as for Mozart. In contrast to his other quintets, this one was not repurposed from other compositions (String Quintet in E-flat Major, Opus 4, the Quintet in C Minor, Opus 104, the Fugue for String Quintet, Opus 137 and Quintettsatz in D Minor, Hess. 40). The cellist anchors it, and guest artist Clancy Newman was superb in that role. The work is balanced by the two violins (Placci with Yonah Zur) and the two violi (Marcus Thompson and Deanna Badizadegan); it presages Beethoven’s middle period with its undertones of unrest. Placci and Zur played with imagination and elegant phrasing, and Thompson and Badizadegan added lush harmonies. The four quintessentially classical movements start with an allegro moderato, progress to an adagio, followed by a scherzo: allegro, and conclude with a stormy presto.
Britten’s Phantasy for Oboe (Peggy Pearson) and String Trio (Zur, Thompson and Newman) in F Minor sounds unlike anything else you will have heard by the composer, perhaps reflecting its early genesis as opus 2, but Britten’s unnumbered juvenilia encompassed over 100 works. It starts in a gentle, yet insistent andante alla marcia, on the cello, then is picked up with pizzicato on the viola, opens into an aural meadow with the haunting oboe melody and an allegro giusto and con fuoco and, ultimately, recedes with the initial Andante cello theme. In this performance, we got treated to an unexpected recapitulation, when violinist Zur had to repair offstage to handle a broken string shortly after Pearson’s lovely oboe entrance in the andante. Unfazed, they regrouped, and the happy audience got to hear the unusual beginning a second time. The initial andante showed subtlety and deftness, reminding this listener of Stravinsky and Schoenberg, but with a softer edge. The allegro sets a pastoral mood more characteristic of continental phantasies of the early 20th century, requiring attuned collaboration between the strings and poignant oboe commentary. The superb execution left me wanting to hear this work again. One can find a YouTube rendition with the full score HERE.
Brahms’s Piano Trio in C Major, Opus 87, his second of that genre, written 26 years after his first, is crafted with unusual sparing lines in the strings. Placci and Newman, with Max Levinson, piano, realized it with controlled soul. Throughout much of the trio, parallel octaves in violin and cello require each of the players to pay particular attention to tuning as well as to the collaboration with the piano in both the initial and final allegro movements. Indeed, the pianist gets the most Brahmsian role, which Levinson provided with panache. The second movement, an Andante con Moto is similarly lean for the violin and cello, while the piano provides a rich counterpoint. The ensemble sound and the smiling players reflected real relish.
An upbeat reception after the concert enabled the crowd and musicians to celebrate a propitious opener.