Friday, December 20, 2002
Concord Chamber Players feature piano quartets
You don't always have to travel to Boston for great music. Just last Sunday, an excellent big-city quality concert was offered and enjoyed right in Concord. Founded by Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist (and Carlisle resident) Wendy Putnam almost three years ago, the Concord Chamber Music Society, which tried out several local venues, appears to have found a home in Concord Academy's Performing Arts Center.
Sunday's concert — the second in the Society's series of five by the Concord Chamber Players — featured three piano quartets. Putnam on violin was joined by new member Karen Dreyfus on viola, Mike Reynolds on cello and Vytas Baksys on piano. The featured pieces were by Franz Schubert, John Harbison (born 1938) and Antonin Dvorak.
An interesting feature of this remarkable series is the lecture that precedes each concert. Judging from the number of early-comers, the informative academic-style talks enhance the enjoyment of the music. On Sunday, Helen Greenwalt, a musicologist at the New England Conservatory, stood in for BSO program notes-writer Steven Ledbetter. She enlightened the audience as to how and when composers find their "voice," that unmistakable signature for which they are recognized by all musicians and even music lovers. Greenwalt demonstrated with musical excerpts that Schubert had found his "voice" in both song and larger symphonic works by the age of 18. For this particular piece of chamber music, however, she revealed how the teenage composer was still "borrowing" from his classical mentor Mozart. The Schubert piece proved to be a delightful gem of lilting melodies bouncing between the bell-like sound of the piano and the bowed strains of the strings.
The Harbison piece, November 19, 1828, is a modern programmatic piece titled with the date of Schubert's death (at the age of 31). Titles of each of the four movements, as well as Harbison's own notes which were included in the program, hinted at attempts by the modern composer to connect with the old Romantic. The haunting character of the music may have prompted listeners to envision real and imagined incidents in Schubert's life. I found the modern piece quite accessible, despite strong dissonanåçces -— à la Stravinsky — and enjoyed this prolific Cambridge composer's use of harmonics, pizzicato and double stops by the string players.
After intermission, the group played Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, Op. 87, which proved to be a veritable powerhouse of music. Using the Czech composer's score, the Concord Chamber Players produced so much sound that it was often tempting to imagine more than only four musicians on stage. They pulled out all the stops, moving deftly between the soft, lyrical passages and strong, percussive sections of this highly romantic piece.
The Concord Chamber Players excelled at their craft. It was a joy to listen in this setting to the individual voices of the instruments while appreciating the cohesive whole of the music. (Watching individual musicians perform in a group adds a noteworthy dimension to live concerts that is absent when merely listening to CDs, for instance.) For their choice of music and in particular its outstanding rendering, these players were rewarded by a well-deserved standing ovation.
In this day of major state-funding cutbacks in the arts, it's a pleasure to see such a high-class chamber group succeeding in a local venue. The Concord Chamber Players merit our continued support. Luckily, there are still three more concerts in this season's series: a clarinet—oriented concert on February 9, a virtuoso violin concert centered around the music of Fritz Kreisler on April 6, and a special family concert (at 51 Walden Street) just teeming with musical jokes on June 1.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito