Tuesday, November 19, 2002

Rock Shows of Note XLV
Despite concern about the approaching Nor'easter on Sunday -- which brought next to no snow in Boston proper even though parts outside got blanketed with snow -- I ventured to Sanders Theatre for a performance by the Boston Chamber Music Society. A subscriber to the society's series this year, I had to miss the first performance because of the CoF Roadshow.

Sunday night, however, I was quite pleased that I'd subscribed. Since college, I haven't taken in much classical music, much less smaller setting chamber music, and the program was delightful. As might be expected, the society balanced better-known works with more adventurous pieces that push the envelope -- at least in terms of "popular" classical music acceptance. And the first piece, opus 15d of Gyorgy Kurtag's "Hommage a Robert Schumann," while clearly the evening's outlier, was -- to me, at least -- the most interesting.

A Romanian-born Hungarian, Kurtag studied in the shadow of Stalinism, and his brief, concentrated compositions have an air of imminent oppression, as well as rebellious playfulness, about them. The movements of this piece were all quite short, and the interplay between Thomas Hill on clarinet and Nokuthula Ngwenyama on viola was extremely lively and clever, especially with the undercurrent of Mihae Lee's piano work. Hill impressed with some breathy noise-making -- not straight-forward classical clarinet fare -- and ended the piece with a dramatic, humorous percussion solo. Awesome. I'll have to explore more of Kurtag's work.

The second piece, Maurice Ravel's 1914 "Piano Trio" was less impressive and interesting. If you know Ravel's music -- and, admittedly, I know little outside of "Bolero," and even not much about that -- it might be rooted in an occasionally sing-song melodic style with occasional dramatic swells. Parts of this almost led me to nod off, but the animated finale caught my attention and held it. Despite my impressions of the piece -- the pop side of classical music -- Lee, Ronald Thomas (on cello, and the society's artistic director), and Ida Levin (on violin) performed well. It's just not my cup of tea, especially when following Kurtag's angular, disjointed, and intriguing work!

Following a brief intermission, the society returned to more popular fare, performing Johannes Brahms' "Piano Quartet in G minor (opus 25)". (Memo to Media Dieticians: I have no idea whatsoever how to title classical compositions!) Featuring Levin, Ngwenyama, Thomas, and Lee, the piece had four movements, of which I was excited by two: the Allegro, and the Rondo alla Zingarese (presto). This might have been the crowd favorite. Before the performance began, a fellow seated behind me told a friend that he was "in for a real treat."

Reading Steven Ledbetter's commentary in the program, I am ashamed of the facile nature of most of my musical reviews, much less my limited knowledge of classical music, but I know what I like. And of this performance's program, Kurtag is the clear winner. I'll have to seek out more of his work.

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