The premiere of a new work by Yehudi Wyner is always a major event. Sunday at 51 Walden Performing Arts Center in Concord, we heard the long-awaited Concord 7, which the Concord Chamber Music Society commissioned. Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed it, with the composer at the piano. Erwin Schulhoff’s Duo for Violin and Cello (1925) and Mendelssohn’s vigorously Romantic Op. 3 Piano Quartet (1825) bookended Wyner’s terrific new piece.
Giving an account of the Schulhoff tinged with a beautiful sadness throughout, Wendy Putnam, violin and Adam Esbensen, cello, opened the four-movement Duo with alienated isolation, then met in mutual commiseration in a duet of extremes, building to an agitated dance, until, with high harmonics, they drifted into duo-solitude. Even in the Zingaresca second movement, a mood more bluntly affirmative than giocoso obtained. For all of the playful, raucous, even Menippean gestures in Putnam’s violin, the deep tones of Esbensen’s cello kept the movement earthy and somber. In the Andantino third movement, Putnam emphasized the cantabile, melodic haunting character of the theme while Esbensen provided a sad reflection, thoughtful and ruminative. The fierce, almost violent finale included lively moments of squabbling between the two instruments, with a brief but effective ponderoso. At the end, a galloping presto fanatico spiraled out of control before being cut short by a masterfully abrupt cadence.
Wyner’s Concord 7 rewarded amply after the long wait. In addition to the composer at the piano, the ensemble consisted of two facing trios: Wendy Putnam, Steven Ansell and Adam Esbensen, strings, Elizabeth Rowe, John Ferrillo and Thomas Martin, winds. It seemed to unfold in three stages. An abrupt, slightly menacing starburst in the piano opened a first section featuring a powerful agitato cacophony interrupted by abrupt stops ― the alternating outbursts of entangled instrumental voices and sudden deadly silences forming a thematic element. A second section, introduced by a soulful, bohemian oboe, then by magic sparkling in the piano, led us into a realm of imagination and desire. With elegance and lyricism, an ocean of sound emerged, from which instruments rose up briefly and in rapid succession to contribute their distinctive colors, all the more memorable for being ephemeral. The pursuit of beauty, always elusive, drove the second section from discovery to discovery, tender, elated, and confident. The piano initiated a lively contrast to open a third and final vivace section with a return of the initial boisterous agitato, now shaped into a lacerating forward momentum. All joined in a united determination to face obstacles across jagged terrain. Yet with the feeling of determination, a sense of regret for a lost Eden also grew more and more palpable, somber and reflective. Innovative and lyrical, Concord 7 can be accounted as top-drawer Wyner.
After a brief intermission (during which friends and admirers flocked Wyner), the program concluded with Mendelssohn’s Piano Quartet in B Minor, Op. 3. The 15-year-old Mendelssohn composed it at the Paris Conservatory, earning the approval of Luigi Cherubini, and thereby convincing Felix’s father to allow the teenager to devote his life to music. Pianist Vitas Baksys, joined Putnam, Ansell and Esbensen. The ensuing warmth and feeling brought out the romantic, stormy content. In both outer movements Baksys nicely emphasized the Bach-like episodes, reminding us of Mendelssohn’s admiration for the earlier master.
Framed by Schulhoff’s enigmatic duo on the one hand and by Mendelssohn’s inexhaustibly fresh quartet on the other, Wyner’s Concord 7 shone in radiant dedication to what Moses Mendelssohn viewed as the key human quest: “Beauty is the self-empowered mistress of all our sentiments.”
Leon Golub is an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge and has been a lover of classical music for over 50 years.