Boston Symphony Chamber Players Sunday afternoon outing at Eben Dyer Jordan’s namesake auditorium began with Hindemith’s Octet (1958). Billed as his last composition for a chamber grouping before his death in 1963, Hindemith scored it for clarinet, bassoon, horn, and string quartet with double bass, like Schubert’s beloved Octet but with paired violas instead of violins; the viola was after all Hindemith’s own preferred instrument, and the first viola in this piece gets many preferences. Its five movements, are shorter and more intense than Schubert’s spacious six. The first, Mässig schnell with slow introduction, probably the longest, shows Hindemith’s characteristic skill for brisk chromatic counterpoint, including a jazz regulating bass from time to time, with good melodies and a short fugue, plus some elegant wind dialogue; at the same time, its blurring chromaticism that came close to atonality made for a careless, even unkind, harmony that also mars Hindemith’s late style in works like his Pittsburgh Symphony (and that you don’t find in his expressionistic works of the 1920s, even though those are just as dense). A more classically minded texture and a clearer harmony appeared in the second movement, even though Hindemith might have been inspired by the dotted-rhythm textures of Schoenberg’s Septet and Serenade. The first viola began to shine in this brief variation set. The third movement began with a chorale-like sound, with some notable high-register excursions for the horn, and this listener remembered the grim chorale in Hindemith’s Trumpet Sonata of 1939, as well as the better-known “Angels’ Concert” in Mathis der Maler. The bouncy and humorous fourth movement evinced a Walter Piston manner, like chasing animals through the woods and fields, but again the first viola brought matters under control; the audience got the point and chuckled. The finale, titled Fuge und drei altmodische Tänze, began with a 12-bar subject in triple meter, which eventually merged the fugue smoothly into a waltz, then a polka, and finally a galop in which the first viola went furioso to the sudden end.
It was gratifying to hear the second performance of Concord 7 by our own Yehudi Wyner. He wrote the septet for three woodwinds, three strings, and piano for the Concord Chamber Music Society, where it premiered some weeks ago. A single movement in several well-controlled and cohesive sections of deep lyricism, it presented brief episodes that appeared and then vanished: dialogic bursts of repeated notes, an abrupt summons of a piano cadenza, bundles of tremolo sul ponticello upper strings, melodies in low piano octaves with cello, soaring lines in paired woodwinds, walking-bass passages with piano, and full-textured songlike sections with dominant-seventh harmonies and whole-tone collections moving along chromatic scales like a slow love song. The composer might well be taxed with influence from the 1930s Kammermusik styles of Hindemith, who was in fact Wyner’s teacher at Yale; but unlike the Octet just heard, this graceful septet has a thorough sense of paratonal harmony, well equipped with familiar triads in a nonclassical web of bright sound — a satisfying piece that should be heard again, and in sooner than three months.
Mozart’s Quintet in D Major for 2 violins, 2 violas and cello K. 593, composed December 1790, a year before his death, closed the concert. The master never reaches greater heights than in this Quintet — well, he equals it with the E-flat Major String Quintet, K. 614. This one offers a slow introduction that reappears at the end of the first movement. The unbroken flow of melodic invention and unexpected surprises never stops, and that’s as true of the second movement, a dizzyingly modulating Adagio, as of the first. The Minuet with Trio includes expanded sections, and the Finale, a 6/8 rondo with a chromatic incipit and several sections repeated, is full of contrapuntal development that might have been physically exhausting to the players, but of course these pros showed affection as wells as attentive seriousness—a proper way to conclude an afternoon of intense aesthetics.
The crowd gratefully acknowledged the familiar BSO principals Haldan Martinson and Alexander Velinzon, violins; Cathy Basrak and Danny Kim, violas; Blaise Déjardin, cello; Edwin Barker, double bass; Elizabeth Rowe, flute; John Ferrillo, oboe; William R. Hudgins, clarinet; Richard Svoboda, bassoon; James Sommerville, horn; along with guest Vytas Baksys, piano on this rewarding afternoon.