The Concord (Mass.) Chamber Music Society’s 20th-season opener at Concord Academy last Sunday afternoon ranks by any measure among the more pleasurable chamber concerts I’ve been to in years. Piece by piece, measure for measure and note for note, violinists Glenn Dicterow and Wendy Putnam, violist Karen Dreyfus, cellist Andrés Díaz, and pianist Marc-André Hamelin delivered the goods with engaging expertise.
The Duo Lyrico for Violin and Viola, by Japanese-American composer Paul Chihara (b1938), immediately set the standard for top-shelf execution. A facile three-movement collage of styles based on well-known tunes of Schubert, Bach, and others, it is ever uncertain of its direction but reaches many moments of Ivesian declamation amid no little pleasantly dissonant noodling. It hides its materials busily, cleverly, even if it sounds lacking in ambition. It was written for the performers, Dicterow and Dreyfus (the occasion was the former’s retirement as NY Philharmonic concertmaster; the duo happen to be mister and missus). They did it up proud, more independently than together, though maybe that’s the piece and the dry clear acoustical space. Chihara shows the polished, veteran confidence of one who has done prolific work also for film and theater. I hope this fine rendition was recorded, and not only because I would like to become familiar with the composer.
After Zoltán Kodály’s own Duo, for violin and cello, concertgoers near me remarked how displeasingly “contemporary” the 105-year-old work sounded, not conventionally “harmonious,” “not something I would leave on the radio in the car.” Sigh, and ’twas ever thus, one supposes. The CA Performing Arts Center was almost packed, and the crowd overwhelmingly silver-haired; as we all age out I wonder who will replace us. Director Putnam does a thoughtful job blending not-all-oldies repertory for this audience.
She also is a polished violinist. For the Kodály, which actually is lovely, she and Díaz, who gets world-class tone of his own from a chesty Goffriller using fewer large-gesture exertions, or perhaps it’s just greater efficiency, than any cellist you’ve ever seen, conveyed their astute, idiomatic read— attentive and sometimes brilliant, unshowy but intensely committed. This duo is largely a muted piece, at least compared with the composer’s songs I have sung. The 32-year-old Kodály was not yet known, but he structured the Duo’s folksy materials with some rigor and great expressivity. Opening drones unfold grippingly, to coin a contradiction, and the closing third movement, a ways off, arrives with vehemence. The middle Adagio–Andante is really something, bluesy, a doleful Central European dialogue, and while standing strongly on its own it also calls for someone to make a movie, or a dance, upon it. Putnam and Díaz owned the entire work, meandering and all.
For the surefire Dvořák Piano Quartet No. 2, the four strings were joined by pianist Hamelin, here of apposite quietness. Little need be reported, so refined and powerful was the ensemble effort. This ravishing quintet began in relaxation and stayed that way even as fires launched and weight gained. The Dumka Andante’s many moments of aching beauty practically overwhelmed. You can hear any number of chamber concerts with less-exact violin (and viola) intonation of the highest notes at loud levels. Yet that was just one achievement to set the afternoon apart. High praise to all.
David Moran has been an occasional Boston-area music critic for 50 years, with special interest in the keyboard.