Tanglewood: BSO Chamber Players Music for a double anniversary
LENOX -- At the opening of Seiji Ozawa Hall 20 years ago, architecture critic Robert Campbell waxed lyrical about its setting in a dip of land:
"You couldn’t help feeling that Providence must have created that slope in the hope that someone, some day, would sit there listening to music, as it drifted out from somewhere among the pines."
Fifty years ago under Erich Leinsdorf, the BSO’s first-chair players banded together to play their maiden concert as the Boston Symphony Chamber Players. Unusual for its time, the ensemble-within-an-ensemble has gone on to a career that has taken it across the world and left a recorded legacy.
Anniversary time. Tanglewood marked the double milestone Tuesday night with an Ozawa Hall concert by the Chamber Players. It was a typical program for the group: a commission, a Debussy trio and the Schubert Octet, the finale calling on the services of a majority of the members.
One of the charter members, cellist Jules Eskin, is still in the BSO, though health issues forced him to the sideline for this concert. (Sato Knudsen took his place.) Another founder, former BSO concertmaster Joseph Silverstein, sat quietly in the audience.
As on Ozawa Hall’s opening night, sauna-like weather put in a guest appearance, this time giving an extra shade of meaning to the opening work, Yehudi Wyner’s "Into the evening air." A wind quintet, it is one of four short works commissioned for the anniversary season and premiered in Boston.
Wyner, who is retired from Brandeis, has a long history with the BSO, including service on the Tanglewood Music Center faculty from 1975 to 1997. He took his title, after the piece was completed, from a line in a poem by Wallace Stevens ("We make a dwelling in the evening air Š").
The finely integrated playing, led by flutist Elizabeth Rowe, revealed a progression from agitated, even frenetic chattering and twittering at the start to tranquil, elegiac tones at the end.
Rowe, joined by Steven Ansell and Jessica Zhou, also led a gorgeous performance of Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp. This is a deceptive work, its sensuous surfaces sometimes recalling Debussy’s "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun."
But there are troubling undercurrents here, reflecting Debussy’s declining health and the piece’s composition at the outset of World War I. It is the second in a set of six chamber works Debussy planned in his last years; only three were ever written. Beguiling in its own right, the playing evoked the unspoken tragedy that lies beneath the languid and occasionally playful surfaces.
Led by concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, the Schubert Octet just didn’t make it through the evening’s wilting heat and humidity. The playing honorably did what it was supposed to do, but as the music drifted out among the pines, it needed a more consistent mellowness of blend and spirit. The hourlong expanse passed slowly.