Harvard Summer School Chamber Ensemble at Sanders Theater Monday nights, thru August 6
CHAMBER MUSIC has a bad name. It is traditionally awarded the dubious distinction of being the most unappealing of classical idioms. Its very mention brings to mind visions of bewigged, thoroughly antique gentlemen lulling their audiences to sleep with the sickly whine of their violins. The recent chamber music "revival" is beginning to change all that: more and more chamber ensembles are playing to larger and larger audiences. And so it is that the newly formed Harvard Summer School Chamber Ensemble drew quite a crowd at its first recital at Sanders Theatre July 9. These young artists demonstrated the perpetual vitality of the chamber idiom in a series of remarkably fine performances.
The recital opened with the Clarinet Trio in E of Mozart K. 498, with Robert Crowley, clarinet, Candace Miller, viola, and Marta Dabezies, piano. There was a slight ensemble problem here in that Miller's frail, smallish viola tone did not always assert itself, and at times was drowned out by the combined forces of the piano and Crowley's full clarinet tone. But what is most important in this piece, and what many experienced performers fail to capture, is the atmosphere, the ambiance, Mozart creates--that rarefied, beatific feeling which is irradiated by the man who Has Seen It All. This performance caught the Olympian calm of the Trio so beautifully that it belied the artists' age.
Next came the Phantasie for violin with piano accompaniment, op. 47 of Schoenberg, with Lynn Chang on the violin and Marta Dabezies at the piano. This piece would be of some historical interest, in any event, since it is Schoenberg's last will and testament, the last work he composed; but Mr. Chang's faultless account of the virtuosic violin part made the Phantasie interesting as music. Both performers obviously relished the music, and they richly deserved the hearty applause they received. (I can't remember any Schoenberg opus getting this kind of hand.)
After intermission the recital closed with the big piece on the program--the Piano Quintet in A, op. 81 of Dvorak, with Alan Marks, piano, Robert Portney, first violin, Ronan Lefkowitz, second violin, James Froelich, viola and Mary Ann Elder, cello. It may seem that the performers who choose to play such a bag of musical sweets as this Dvorak Quintet can hardly fail to satisfy, no matter how they play. However, an audience usually senses when the players are "fudging," and does not respond. Here the players admitted nary an iota of fudge to their bag of sweets--just honest music making. Their reading was as good as one could ever wish to hear, with near-perfect homogeneity of ensemble, and audience response was properly approving.
Chamber music, as it begins to shed its bad name, is very much alive and well now. It is living in Cambridge, every Monday night through August 6 at Sanders Theatre--living a glorious renaissance at the hands of the Harvard Summer School Chamber Ensemble.