Friday, March 10, 2017

Review: Chamber Music Society

Jesse Mills, violin
James Wilson, cello
Mary Boodell, flute
James Ferree, French horn
Rieko Aizawa, piano
March 10, Boodell-Davis House

“The future of live music,” the BBC reported recently, is for people to have friends over and invite musicians to play concerts in their homes:

Hmm, where have we heard this before? Those whose memories stretch back to the previous millennium will recall that there’s a genre called chamber music, and that it came by that name because, until fairly recently, it generally was performed in domestic settings. (Those with shorter memories are referred to an at-home musicale with tragic consequences in season 4, episode 3 of “Downton Abbey.”)

Each season in Richmond, the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia revives the genre’s roots by staging a couple of its programs in houses: a December baroque program at the Wilton House Museum and another chamber concert in a home large enough for the musicians to play to a smallish but not minuscule audience.

This time, the venue was the Fan District home that Mary Boodell, the Richmond Symphony’s principal flutist and a regular performer with (and current board president of) the Chamber Music Society, shares with her husband, Evan Davis, and their sons.

The selections were big enough in sound and scope, and the setting intimate enough – three dozen or so listeners in the house’s living room and front hall – to produce a truly enveloping evening of music-making.

The main attraction was Brahms’ Trio in E flat major, Op. 40, for piano, violin and French horn, not the most muscular of the composer’s chamber works, but in this setting, as played by pianist Rieko Aizawa, violinist Jesse Mills and horn player James Ferree, borderline-brawny in impact and deeply passionate in spirit.

The musicians played with technical assurance, expressive spontaneity and – remarkably, considering how assertively they played – fine balance among the three instruments.

A more in-your-face reading of Bohuslav Martinů’s “Madrigal Sonata” by Aizawa, Mills and flutist Boodell nearly cracked the sound barrier of the space in which they played, especially in the sonata’s opening movement, a busy construct with all three instruments emphasizing their high registers.

Dvořák’s “Silent Woods,” which cellist James Wilson, the society’s artistic director, played in a custom-made arrangement with piano, flute and horn, and the Elegie for violin and piano by the short-lived (1915-40) Czech composer Vitěslava Kaprálová complemented each other musically – the Elegie is more Slavic-romantic than some of Kaprálová’s other works, which reflect French-impressionist influence – and complemented the performance space in warmth and intimacy.

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia presents “Brahms and Friends,” a free mini-concert of works by Brahms, Robert and Clara Schumann, Ferdinand David and Heinrich von Herzogenberg, 2 p.m. March 11 in the Gellman Room of the Richmond Public Library, First and Franklin streets. (Seating is limited.) Details: (804) 646-7723;