Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review: Chamber Music Society

Oct. 27, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

In preparation for its 10th anniversary season, the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia polled its patrons on their favorite music. Music from Vienna topped the poll, so the society launched its new season with Viennese and related – sometimes rather distantly related – repertory.

I couldn’t make it to “Neo-Vienna,” an Oct. 25 program at the Richmond Public Library that sampled contemporary takes on Viennese tradition and style. The subsequent offering, “Austro-Hungarian Waltz,” proved to be a wide-ranging, at times thrilling, survey of Viennese classicism, romanticism and modernism, with a couple of echoes from contemporary composers.

The anchor of the program was Haydn’s Quartet in C major, Op. 76, No. 3, known as the “Emperor” from theme of its adagio, which became known in Haydn’s time as the “Emperor’s Hymn” and several generations later as “Deutschland über alles.” Violinists Guillaume Pirard and Nurit Pacht, violist Melissa Reardon and cellist James Wilson (artistic director of the society) played the quartet with extraordinary energy and dynamism. The music’s elegance remained intact, but in an interpretive context far different from that of “standard” 18th-century classical performance.

The difference was most pronounced in the opening allegro and concluding presto. These outer movements were played with headlong propulsiveness and slashing accents, vividly anticpating the energy and intensity levels of Beethoven. Haydn’s menuetto was treated to an earthy reading, underlining its roots in the Ländler, the Central European hill-country folk dance that was the ancestor of the minuet and waltz. Only the “Emperor” theme and variations fell short in this performance, played a bit too briskly and consequently sounding too glib.

The string players made a comparably strong impression in the allegro agitato movement of Brahms’ Quartet in B flat major, Op. 67, part of “Evolution of the Waltz,” a medley of dance works by Viennese composers works, from Mozart to Schoenberg. Schmidt gave a well-paced and detailed performance of Schoenberg’s “Six Short Pieces,” Op. 19, concluding the waltz medley. Despite his best efforts, it sounded quite anti-climactic after the surging Brahms quartet performance.

The four fiddlers, joined by pianist Carsten Schmidt and organist Stephen Henley, polished a neglected gem in Schoenberg’s arrangement of “Roses from the South,” one of the most sumptuous of the waltzes of Johann Strauss II.

Flutist Mary Boodell, Schmidt and the string foursome, led by Pirard, delved into another dance style popular in old Vienna, the gypsy dance, in a technically dazzling, rhetorically florid reading of Franz Doppler’s “Pastoral Fantasy in the Hungarian Style.”

The contemporary pieces were “Moz-art” (1978) by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, a broadly humorous, at times almost slapstick, send-up of Viennese classical style and compositional technique, played for maximum humor and display of technique by violinists Pacht and Pirard (the former also whistling); and “mozart-adagio” (1992) by Arvo Pärt, a piano-trio fantasy on the the adagio from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K. 280, that doesn’t so much gild Mozart’s lily as subject it to fun-house mirror distortions. Pirard, Wilson and Schmidt realized Pärt’s often rarified effects nicely and clearly echoed Mozart whenever they could.