Boston Symphony Chamber Players wrap season with a compelling new work by Currier

April 7, 2014 at 1:37 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

The Boston Symphony Chamber Players perform Sebastian Currier’s “Parallel Worlds” Sunday at Jordan Hall. Photo: Stu Rosner

In their final performance of the season, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players paired a glittering divertissement by Milhaud with Schubert’s muscular Octet for winds and strings Sunday afternoon at Jordan Hall.

But the highlight of the afternoon was the Boston premiere of a new work by Sebastian Currier.

Parallel Worlds for flute and string quartet, which received its first performance a few weeks ago by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, explores the expression that is lost and gained when similar musical fragments are transcribed from one instrument to another.

It’s an organic process that Currier has used in other works, such as his mixed quintet Static and the violin concerto Time Machine.

Like those pieces, the landscape of Parallel Worlds is steeped in logic. Motives that appear in later movements are often foreshadowed at the ends of earlier ones, and the music’s forms seem to circle back on themselves.

Beyond its heady exterior, Parallel Worlds is awash with gorgeous colors. Sheets of harmonics flow from the strings while the flute sounds out long shimmering sustains overhead. Bent tones and glissandi are recurring themes in the work’s four movements. Haldan Martinson (violin), Malcolm Lowe (violin), Steven Ansell (viola), and Sato Knudsen (cello) unleashed strings of tremolos, agitated statements, and glassy slides before passing them on to flutist Elizabeth Rowe, who added her own touches with flutter-tongue effects and velvety pitch bends.

Some of the ensemble’s most exciting playing came in the finale, where angular string and flute patterns seem to spin in many directions at the same time. Both Rowe and the strings handled the jerky, pointillistic riffs with ease.

Parallel Worlds is a work of finely honed craftsmanship, and one hopes it will receive many performances beyond Sunday’s hearing.

The concert’s opener, Milhaud’s Suite d’après Corrette for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon is a neo-Baroque delicacy. Originally written as incidental music for a 1936 production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the eight pieces of the suite are drawn from the music of Michel Corrette, a little-known eighteenth-century composer who was as prolific as Milhaud himself.

John Ferrillo (oboe), William Hudgins (clarinet), and Richard Svoboda (bassoon) gave the frolicking lines that pepper these small dances and vignettes glowing, pastoral warmth.

Pieces of such brevity don’t allow much room for wide expressive range, and it wasn’t until the sixth of the set, “Rondeau,” where the trio could balance the burbling, energetic phrases with more lyrical statements.

This music, though, can still pack a punch. Milhaud’s characteristic bitonality added bite to the trio’s soupy rendering of the three short Minuets. And the finale, “Le Coucou,” beamed from the melodic chirps and squirrelly runs.

Schubert’s Octet was heard after intermission. The six movements that make up this imposing masterwork resemble similar forms of the Austro-German divertimento as well as Beethoven’s Septet, which Schubert used as a model.

By skipping the repeats, the musicians tightened the first movement’s formal structure considerably. Their playing was polished from the beginning, but it took until the second movement for the ensemble to achieve a uniform blend. There, Hudgins floated a singing line, sans vibrato, over the gentle string accompaniment. James Sommerville’s horn supplied warmth behind Malcolm Lowe’s singing violin phrases.

The ensemble dug in for the finale’s austere introduction, yet their playing in the ensuing Allegro lacked some of the luster they gave the Scherzo and Minuet. The tempo was slow, which allowed for finer execution of the melodic turns and fiery violin and clarinet passagework, but the movement’s cascading lines had little sparkle and more the pomp style of a British march.

The best playing came in the theme and variations that form the heart of the Octet. The movement takes as its theme a love duet from Schubert’s singspiel Die Freunde von Salamanka, which the ensemble played sweetly and with gentle ebb and flow. Sommerville’s horn and Hudgins’ clarinet swelled for lush phrases in the third variation. Knudsen’s cello was finally given the chance to sing on its own in the fourth variation, the phrases abounding with vibrant tone and elegant rubato.

The Boston Symphony Chamber Players will perform Schubert’s Octet and Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola, and harp along with another new work celebrating their fiftieth anniversary 8 p.m. July 1 at Tanglewood’s Ozawa Hall. Their first performance of the 2014-2015 season will include music by Bach, Nielsen, and Brahms 3 p.m. October 19 at Jordan Hall. bso.org; 617-266-1492.

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