Boston Chamber Players close season with a program of late works

April 29, 2013 at 8:01 am

By Keith Powers

With a trio of works by composers in their mature prime, mirroring the expertise and experience onstage, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players closed their season Sunday afternoon at Jordan Hall. Distinguished works by Janacek, Martinu and Brahms highlighted the program.

The ensemble opened with Janacek’s evocative wind sextet Mládí (Youth). A crisp opening, passed from oboe (John Ferrillo) to flute (Elizabeth Rowe) then briefly to the rest of the group, before a modulation to minor, set the tone. Janacek had a particular notion about phrasing, entirely his own, translated roughly as “speech-melody.” Following the rising and falling of his native Moravian dialect, Janacek’s conception of speech as a model for rhythmic and melodic patterns governs this and many other works, his operas particularly.

The effect is a kind of undulation, as evidenced by those first few phrases. As the title suggests, Janacek—composing just a few years before his death—was recalling his own boyhood. The music does not bear an impetuous nature, however, but the calm recollections of happy times. Stylistically, it shows a confident composer not yoked to any traditional models. The first movement, Allegro sostenuto in its early section, starts as a theme and variations, but the variations morph into almost unchartered new ideas. The scherzo is a march, but playful and spirited—Rowe picks up a piccolo for part of it, peppering the regularity with robust antics. The finale, concluding Allegro animato, harkens back to the opening melody and its development, as if recalling the past one last time.

The playing was brisk and smart. Rowe transformed her piccolo part from something of a non sequitur into a complementary new idea. Guest Craig Nordstrom elegantly delineated the opening lines of the second movement on bass clarinet, and Ferrillo’s oboe lines were clear without dominating.

Martinu’s Nonet for Winds and Strings, another work composed late in life, was written to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the famed Czech Nonet, a stellar mid-century ensemble. In three movements, it often has a push-pull feeling, with lyrical lines in one instrument accompanied by herky-jerky accompaniment in the others. It maintains a dance-like quality, thoroughly appealing if not always coherent.

Strings and winds give different emphatic statements, each in unison, in the first movement, until violinist Haldan Martinson interrupts with a long melodic line that leads to an insightful development. Cellist Jules Eskin opens the slow movement with a kind of air, over pizzicato accompaniment, which meanders lovingly throughout the Andante. The finale keeps shifting ideas, all offered briefly and then tossed aside, before returning to the original line and developing into a coda of substantial character.

After intermission, Eskin and clarinetist William Hudgins were joined by a distinguished guest, pianist David Deveau, for Brahms’ Clarinet Trio. One of the quartet of clarinet works that Brahms wrote after his “retirement,” the trio is rich in invention. The cellist has a surprisingly substantial part throughout: Eskin opened the quite deliberate Allegro (at a rather too generous tempo) with a beautiful idea, echoed first by Deveau and then developed as a trio.

In the second movement, descending scales in the clarinet and cello begin an Adagiothat was a tightly woven fabric of ideas, yoked with overlapping insight. The third movement brings a waltz, not a scherzo, of simple character, but the finale, with rhythms shifting almost continually, increases the tension right up to the coda, which restores a warm, lyrical mood. The players shared a genial interaction throughout, mimicking the quality of the interplay in the score.

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