Boston Chamber Music Society’s rendering of Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s innovative Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio in E flat Major, S.78 yesterday at Jordan Hall made a fine argument for the rediscovery of the underrated composer’s gifts, revealing the romantic motherlode within his classicism. A former wunderkind who studied and lived with Mozart, he was considered the premier pianist of his day, had a stormy friendship with Beethoven, and worked at Esterházy for some years in Haydn’s presence. The initial theme of the first movement briefly quotes the Mozart clarinet concerto and the second is practically a sing-along. Clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois, violinist Isabelle Ai Durrenberger, violist (and BCMS artistic director) Marcus Thompson, and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, enraptured the audience. The initial movement contains lot of chromatics, which wafted solid, coherently and collaboratively, without dominance from the clarinet. The second, La Seccatura (the Annoyance), Allegro Molto contains Haydnesque humor, punctuated with intentionally irritating phrases which delighted with alternating twists and turns. The Andante provided abundant moments for contemplative tone and nuanced phrasing from de Guise-Langlois. If restraint sometimes prevailed, some free fantasy also developed. The Rondo, Allegretto bestowed a classical Viennese form refreshingly adulterated with early hints of romanticism.
Pierre Jalbert’s 2015 Street Antiphons filled the Hall with drive, mystery, reverence and invention. A BCMS (Commissioning Club) gem, it premiered at Sanders Theater in 2015 and has enjoyed much praise since. Challenging contemporary work such as this expands our understanding, and in the combination of the inspired playing by de Guise-Langlois on both clarinet and bass-clarinet, joined here by superb pianist Max Levinson, and accomplished violinist Alyssa Wang and gifted cellist Ramakrishnan, enlarged our enjoyment as well.
This composition combines the sacred in profane yet mysterious ways, beginning with “Driving, cool, in a groove,” which more than lived up to its title—starting with Levinson’s persistent, effective rendering. It evoked contemporary street smarts, pulsating and idiosyncratic, with each instrument entering in exhibitionistic swagger yet alternating with antiphon—with each voice contributing musical phrases. Here, each instrument provided ethereal, pauses, sound hanging in the air. The clarinet and violin, canon-like, interact as two choirs, with the piano and cello adding a pizzicato. Ultimately, each instrument exits independently, ending with the piano. A “two-fer,” “Ethereal, restrained” followed with lyrical harmonics, yet ultimately provided a scherzo-like whirlwind that includes the bass clarinet—really, a tour-de-force delivered with enthusiasm. The Gregorian chant, “O Antiphon,” constitutes the theme for the final movement, “Timeless, mysterious: Theme and variations” that evolve through increasing animation with moments of great reverence. Beckoned by the performers, the composer took to the stage amidst thunderous applause.
Brahms’s masterful Piano Quartet No. 2, op. 26, in A Major 26 begins building after an understated piano entrance, perhaps foreshadowing the 50-plusminute work’s complications. Levinson delivered the initial first-movement theme masterfully; the strings recapitulated and continued to enchant throughout the Allegro non troppo. While the Poco Adagio second movement perhaps overstays its welcome, the stormy rumblings within it provided one of the best examples of foreboding in chamber music. Then, the initial section of the meaty Poco Allegro scherzo greatly energized the musicians and the audience. Its pianistic showcase start surged with optimism and yet also allowed each string player moments of glory. And then the D minor scherzo trio more equally afforded the strings development, and the culmination of the movement held everyone rapt. The folk-like finale wowed with the mastery of its Hungarian fervor.
Despite the length of this memorable concert, the crowd demanded an encore, but the musicians wisely decided to let Brahms have the last word.