Boston Symphony Chamber Players wrap their season in style

April 23, 2018 at 1:53 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

The Boston Symphony Chamber Players performed Stacy Garrop’s “Bohemian Cafe” Sunday afternoon at Jordan Hall. Photo: Hilary Scott

Four years ago, Stacy Garrop set out to write a short work based upon the street music of Prague. The Chicago-based composer had never been to the Czech city, so she relied instead upon on internet videos and her own fertile imagination.

She spun her ideas into Bohemian Café, an attractive chamber work that was premiered in Chicago in 2015. Sunday afternoon at Jordan Hall, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players offered the composition in its first Boston performance as part of a wide-ranging program.

Garrop’s music often paints stark, even hallucinatory images, and Bohemian Café, which lasts a mere eight minutes, conjures vivid sounds of Prague’s bustling streets. Scored for the unusual combination of woodwind quintet and double bass, the music of Bohemian Café buzzes and churns. Episodic in structure, the work pits different groups of instruments against each other in multilayered, conversational fashion. Flute and oboe figures flutter while the French horn sounds out clarion calls. Clarinet phrases slither through the work’s prickly texture and bassoon and bass engage in a polka-like rhythm that eventually evolves into a jazzy groove. Garrop’s athletic and ear-catching melodies made Sunday’s performance fun, and the Chamber Players rendered the work with verve.

Selections from Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for clarinet, viola, and piano also reflected old-world charm.

Though his Violin Concerto and Scottish Fantasy survive today, Bruch’s chamber music has fallen into undue neglect, particularly in the United States.

Sunday afternoon, clarinetist William R. Hudgins and violist Steven Ansell welcomed guest pianist David Deveau for three movements (Nos. 5, 7, and 8) from Bruch’s alluring set. The Romanian folk melody of the Fifth unwound like silk. Hudgins wove his radiant clarinet line around Ansell’s burnished viola phrases, and Deveau supported the duo with glassy harmonies.

In the Eighth, Hudgins and Ansell’s instruments combined in a plaintive cry. The Seventh was a trickling Scherzo. There, Deveau sprinkled his figures with sharp accents, while the brief coda spiced the music with humor.

Lili Boulanger’s Nocturne and Cortège, which have become popular recital and encore items over the last few years, have the attractiveness of a quaint discussion between two friends. Sunday afternoon, Boston Symphony Orchestra cellist Mihail Jojatu teamed up with Deveau for a performance of both short works. Though Jojatu’s running figures in Cortège resulted in a few moments of wayward intonation, the cellist floated a hauntingly distant melody in Nocturne, his upper register shimmering with a flute-like quality. Deveau supported the cellist with honey-toned accompaniment. 

In Mozart’s String Quintet in C major, K. 515, which closed the program, the Chamber Players engaged in supple musical dialogue. Violinist Haldan Martinson and cellist Jojatu made the most of the first movement’s sun-lit themes. Observing the repeat of the exposition, which stretched the movement to a twenty-minute length, the musicians found mystery in the development section, where Mozart’s chromatic inner voices shaded the music with a hint of darkness.

Performers opt for either a lyrical or dance-like approach to the Menuetto. The Boston Symphony Chamber Players brought a little of both. While the Chamber Players’ interpretation could have benefited from greater dynamic contrast between the Minuet and Trio sections, they played with congenial flow. Violin and viola phrases coalesced in swirling textures while Jojatu’s cello supplied a nimble, Viennese lilt.

Like all of Mozart’s string quintets, K. 515 is scored for pairs of violins, violas and single cello. The Andante features the first viola prominently, and Steven Ansell, with his lush sound, provided effervescent embellishment to Martinson’s yearning violin line. In the final Allegro, the players brought the kind of posh intimacy fit for any world-class musical conversation.

In their first concert of the 2018-2019 season, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players and pianist Garrick Ohlsson will perform music of Haydn, Brahms, Hindemith, and Johnson 3 p.m. October 21 at Jordan Hall.; 888-266-1200


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