Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: Chamber Music Society

Jan. 5, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

James Wilson, the cellist and artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia, has built up a lot of trust with the local audience. Proof of that came in the first of the society’s winter concerts, a program in which the only familiar work was a Haydn symphony – and that in a seldom-heard heard chamber arrangement.

Aside from the Haydn “Clock” Symphony (No. 101) in the reduction for piano, flute and string quartet by Johann Peter Salomon, the violinist-impresario who engaged the composer for his two celebrated visits to Britain in the 1790s (resulting in Haydn’s 12 “London” symphonies, among other works), and the “Autumn” section of Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” in a clarinet-quintet arrangement by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, the rest of this program on the theme of time was given over to decidedly non-household name composers.

Chances are pretty good that no one in the audience had heard of, let alone heard music by, the contemporary Lithuanian composer Onute Narbutaite, the contemporary American Roger Zare or Carl Frühling, an Austrian active in the late-19th and early 20th centuries, before attending this concert.

And yet they came, and responded to, this parade of unknowns. They bet $25 or $30 that Wilson wouldn’t let them down. And he didn’t. How did he pull this off? Partly by knowing what his listeners could absorb, and partly by recruiting musicians who could “sell” these obscurities with compelling performances.

Remarkably, this program was put together on a tight rehearsal schedule, compacted even more than usual by travel disruptions caused by the recent winter storms.

One got little sense of insufficient preparation – other than, perhaps, a bit of extra frisson and tense immediacy – in performances of Narbutaite’s “Winter Serenade” and Zare’s “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” both requiring a good deal of unconventional instrumental technique, a great deal of concentrated listening and adjustment of balances among the musicians and, in the Narbutaite, a keen sense of the role that silence plays in music.

Three Richmond Symphony members, clarinetist Jared Davis, flutist Mary Boodell and violinist Daisuke Yamamoto (the orchestra’s concertmaster), joined Wilson and three veterans of past editions of the festival, violinist Jesse Mills, violist Max Mandel and pianist Rieko Aizawa.

Davis played with warmth, refined tone and strong projection of his instrument’s lower register in Takemitsu’s transformation of the Tchaikovsky movement into a lovely little tone poem, and was an appropriately Brahmsian voice in the Frühling trio.

Boodell’s flute shone among the strings and keyboard in Salomon’s Haydn arrangement, and enhanced the urgency of Zare’s piece, a sonic evocation of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity (the one about fast-moving objects).

Yamamoto blended seamlessly with Wilson and the visiting fiddlers, and was a chracterful and complementary voice in several “conversations” with violinist Mills.

The Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia’s winter concert series concludes with “The End of Time,” a program of Liszt, Glass and Messiaen, at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. Tickets: $30. Details: (804) 519-2098;