Classically Speaking: Chamber music blooms
A new season of chamber music blooms on October 2 as the Buffalo Chamber Music Society presents the American Chamber Players in a performance of Mozart, Martinu, and Brahms. The concert begins at 8 p.m. in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans.
Celebrating its eighty-ninth season, the BCMS will be staging seven concerts and three free “Gifts to the Community” during what associate director Robert Hausmann calls “one of our most varied seasons. There is a good mix of young and more established artists along with both European and American ensembles.”
This year, the BCMS will feature concerts by string quartets, a chamber orchestra, a trio, a recorder quartet, finishing the season with the world renowned Emerson Quartet. Incidentally, this will be the last concert appearance of Emerson cellist David Finckel before he retires from the group.
Opening this year’s season will be the American Chamber Players, who have been entertaining audiences since 1985. The group was originally founded by violist Miles Hoffman as an outgrowth of the Library of Congress Summer Festival in Washington. Made up of six players, all on different instruments, the Chamber Players specialize in presenting “three pieces done in three different instrument configurations,” according to Hoffman.
The concert begins with the Mozart quartet for flute and strings K. 285. Those who were fortunate enough to hear Sir James Galway play the Mozart flute concerto K. 314 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra last month will find many similarities between the two pieces. The quartet for flute and strings was part of the Dejong commission that produced the flute concerto (see last issue—Ed.). Completed on Christmas day 1777, this piece is the longest of the four flute quartets written by Mozart. “It sounds simple but is deceptively difficult to play,” adds Hoffman.
Of the quartet’s three parts, the second movement has garnered the most attention. Uncommonly for Mozart, the movement is an adagio that is only thirty-four bars long. The flute plays a very emotional theme and pizzicato strings lay the foundation in the background. Much has been written about the sheer beauty of this movement, but nothing more succinct than musicologist Alfred Einstein’s “perhaps the most beautiful accompanied flute solo that has ever been written.” Yet it is the third movement in which the music does a quartet justice as it repeats the themes from the first movement in a real dialogue among all the instruments.
The second piece on the program will be the trio for flute, cello, and piano by Bohuslav Martinu. Hoffman says that Martinu “was not a composer who could be pigeonholed”; his repertoire was “tremendously diverse and voluminous.” The trio was written in 1944 after a bout of severe melancholy, yet it contains all the gaiety of a summer’s day. It also closely mimics an earlier piece from 1939 called Promenades for Violin, Flute, and Harpsichord, which is light and airy but written at a time of great tragedy. Despite what might be considered forced optimism, the first movement of the trio is buoyant and dancelike followed by a second movement adagio in C minor with the decidedly nondancelike time signature of 6/4. The third movement begins with a slow cadenza for flute that slowly erupts into another joyous dance. Martinu seems to have written the piece to reaffirm his Czech roots and the music itself is surprisingly accessible given the atonal trends of the time. Some of you may remember this piece from the Burchfield Penney series, A Musical Feast, last April.
The concert concludes with the Quartet for Piano and Strings in A major, op. 26 by Johannes Brahms. This is a rather long piece packed with musical interest. In fact, Hoffman says, “It takes a while to get to know but [is unmatched] for the sheer beauty of the writing for piano. It’s a mistake to try to analyze this music, much better to be open to the complex sounds of the instruments.” Brahms himself was the pianist for the Vienna premier in 1862.
At this point in his career, Brahms began experimenting with the structure of his music, taking great influence from Schubert. Yet three out of the four movements in this piece are in the traditional sonata form. The quartet opens with a sleepy bar that masks the complexity yet to come. The piano enters with a series of triples to establish its theme. Next, the cello plays a number of triples to establish its own theme, which is followed by an interlocking of the two instruments in a grand theme that closes out the movement.
Violinist Joseph Joachim has described the second movement most appropriately as “ambitious passion.” The piano moves from a tranquil songlike opening and gypsy styled cadenza to repeats of this basic motif in increasingly more florid accents. Muted sonorities only return at the end of the movement. The third movement begins with flowing sonic lines that seem too mild for the scherzo markings. Listen for the central trio that turns fiery and Hungarian.
The final movement of the piece is a fully worked sonata. The first subject of this movement is, again, decidedly Hungarian with exotic flavors and rhythms. As the movement develops, the music takes on an increasingly Schubertian character with large melodic patterns and a feeling of relaxed strength. It might be interesting to accompany this concert with a relistening of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden to get the juices flowing on a cold autumn night.
Later in the month, on October 30, the Modigliani Quartet of France will be at the BCMS. Winners of the prestigious Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, the Modigliani Quartet is considered one of the best young ensembles in chamber playing today because of their energy, enthusiasm, and interpretive skill. They will present a program of Haydn, Schumann, and Dohnanyi.
Peter R. Reczek is a scientist and longtime follower of the WNY classical music scene.