A handsomely ornamental, monumental courtroom hosted Boston Chamber Music Society’s advantageous change of venue from its usual digs in the temporarily unobtainable Sanders Theater. The ensemble celebrated “Schubert 225” in the acoustically warm confines of Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center; it provided stylish refuge (at half capacity) to 75 folks on Sunday afternoon in the brilliant aftermath of a dramatic blizzard. Architect Graham Gund had repurposed Wait and Cutter’s 1889 Registry of Deeds courtroom into a theater space in 1985.
The hard plaster surfaces with elegant polychrome, surrounding wrought iron balconies, and glazed coffered ceiling make an attractive space which sounded almost as good it looked, though acousticians went a bit overboard with sound absorbing panels on the lower half of the walls. This resulted, according to reports, in some diminished communication among musicians, and for this listener, the overdominance of one instrument.
The fact that the first published score of Schubert’s Rondo in B Minor for Pianoforte and Violin gives the keyboard pride of place in the title, constitutes nothing more than a matter of form and practice and implies nothing on the relative importance of parts. The manuscript gives the instruments equal billing, and that’s how it should sound. Unfortunately the seven-foot Steinway that Max Levinson played full stick sounded too loud much of the time, and as a result, violinist Jennifer Frautschi, despite her gorgeous tone, seemed unable to convey some of the subtleties that others bring out in the part. The false start occasioned by Levinson’s Bluetooth glitch didn’t help his ability to relax into the piece but did give Frautschi a beneficial pause to retune. High energy prevailed as the vividly varied melodic and rhythmic ideas repeated and contrasted; we always welcomed their returns. Every scherzo or fiery outburst met with nostalgic relaxation, and not a single moment overstayed its welcome.
Each of the four movements of Schubert’s late, great, nearly hour-long String Quintet in C Major contains multitudes. And each one breaks out of its tempo designations to enrich and surprise us with unending variety and heavenly length. Schubert built legal performance enhancement into this two-cello outpouring, inspiring generous engagement from whomever undertakes it. Whether with dancing, marching to the hounds, or reflecting on a golden past, Schubert packs this work with enough material for several compositions and several reviews. Cellist Edward Arron joined BCMS members violinists Yura Lee and Jennifer Frautschi, violist Marcus Thompson, and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan for a Schubertian lovefest. The satisfying traversal produced no surprises save for the exquisite interchanges in the Adagio between violinist Lee and cellist Arron with trills and pizzacatos growing ever more emphatic. They listened to each other from opposite ends of the stage with signal attention and equality of purpose.
The next BCMS concert:
Brahms, Tower and Fauré
February 13th at 3:00
Cambridge Multicultural Center
Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer