BSO Chamber Players go from Beethoven to the other Beethoven at Ozawa Hall


LENOX — There's Beethoven and there's other-Beethoven. The Boston Symphony Chamber Players went from one to the other in their annual Tanglewood concert Wednesday night, following Beethoven's Trio for strings, Opus 9, No. 3, with Louis Spohr's Nonet, Opus 31.

The difference between the two composers can be summarized thus: Beethoven wants to argue. Spohr aims to please.

The two composers were contemporaries in Germany, and Spohr at the time was the more highly regarded of the two. Time, of course, has rendered a different verdict. But Spohr's gathering of nine, expertly rendered by the BSO ensemble's full complement of players, is a tuneful, graceful change of pace from, say, Beethoven's more rambunctious Septet.

The Beethoven trio is an early work, tightly coiled and pointing toward the later mastery of his string quartets — qualities brought out by violinist Malcolm Lowe, violist Steven Ansell and cellist Adam Ebensen. Spohr's easygoing 1813 work, by the composer of 10 symphonies (to Beethoven's nine) and 15 violin concertos (to Beethoven's one), came along 15 years after the Beethoven trio.

At times, the Nonet suggested the sonorities of Brahms' Serenade No. 2 (heard earlier this season), which came along 46 years later. Yet Beethoven and Brahms live on, while Spohr exists in their shadows. Sigh.

'Twas a dark and humid night, with a sparse audience, that the Chamber Players and their sensitive instruments had to contend with. The evening's novelty was "Shamu" and "Clinical," two short pieces with electronics that Jeremy Flower wrote for hornist James Sommerville. Flower, who identifies himself as both an acoustic and an electronics composer, sat at a piano and console controlling the electronic effects.

"Shamu," Flower writes, was written for his young son, "Clinical" for his wife during her medical training. Essentially, both pieces have the horn playing and repeating a slow, simple figure that is echoed and re-echoed, with background effects, in a playback loop. The story seemed to stay within the family.

A trio of wind players — oboist John Ferrillo, clarinetist William R. Hudgins and bassoonist Richard Svoboda — took a lively turn in Jean Françaix's Divertissement, a little essay in Gallic charm. Have you ever been caught at a party by a guest who wins you over by the sheer insouciance of his chatter? That's Françaix.


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