From their list of ensemble members, which includes the likes of Curious George and Hannah Montana, to their program notes, which come with an “addendum for philistines,” the Brattle Street Chamber Players seem to be out on a mission to dispel the notion that classical music is an uptight, outmoded genre. But don’t let the quirky program fool you: when it comes to the actual music, the Players mean business. Their thoughtful performance married technical skill with emotional power in a show that dazzled.
The first piece of the evening was Mozart’s “Divertimento in F, K. 138.” From the first bracing notes, the Players captured the audience’s attention with their rousing, spirited rendition. The ensemble brought the necessary energy to the upbeat piece without drowning out the many interconnected threads. In the first movement Allegro, the balance between the sweet violins and the busily working cellos beneath was exquisite and kept the piece’s many parts from sounding garbled or overwrought. But the Players can do delicate too, and the softer passages in the Presto movement evinced this. In the Andante movement, the tempo they chose allowed the Players to extract the notes’ bittersweet nuances, recalling at times the poignancy of Bach’s “Air on the G String.” Still, the Players never let the piece get bogged down in excessive sentiment: it floated along, always kept light and moving.
The second piece, Lydia W. Brindamour ’13’s “The Bones of Things”—the work’s premier—could not have been further from Mozart. The churchlike silence of the concert hall was shattered by what sounded like a string snapping. Underneath this was a thin sound like a faraway train passing by. Combined with chaotic notes and the thump of bows slapping against strings, the effect was a thrilling, chilling, fascinating piece that made the listener constantly wonder how on earth the Players were creating those sounds. The piece resembled a horror-movie soundtrack, at times evoking the feeling of bugs crawling on your skin. True to its title, “The Bones of Things” is spare, but what’s there is packed with meaning. The long stretches of silence gave extra weight to the sparse notes, and the eerie, unearthly jumble of sounds was punctuated here and there by a single perfect, plaintive note that took on a haunting quality by virtue of its singularity. The piece could not have succeeded, however, without the precise, meticulous execution of the Players, who drew out the tension in the air, reeling in the audience where a sloppier performance would have allowed listeners to simply reject the piece altogether for its peculiarity.
The last piece of the night was Arthur Schoenberg’s “Verklärte Nacht” (Transfigured Night), and it managed to look tame in comparison with what came before it. While Schoenberg is famous for his atonal style, his earlier works, such as this one, seem far more conventional to modern ears, though at the time of its publication, the inclusion of a “nonexistent” chord stirred up controversy among the Austrian artistic establishment. The piece’s beginning is darkly brooding, but the melody is soon whipped up into a frenzy. Thanks to the Players’ careful rendering, things never careened out of control: they were able to take even overwrought passages and sail them down into sweet, dreamy melodies. A violin solo by Keir D. Gogwilt ’13 was entrancing, capturing the pathos of the piece without overwhelming the performance with theatrics. As ever, the skill of the ensemble let every element of the composition shine: while the nimble finale had a hypnotic quality, the violin that sung above it was truly gorgeous. The Players unified the piece’s many different sections to create a rendition that was powerfully affecting.
The Players’ Fall Concert showcased music from a variety of different eras and styles, and the group tackled each one with equal energy, giving precise performances that still managed to pack an emotional punch. From the first note to the last, they had the audience spellbound. If the tongue-in-cheek program was an attempt to reel in viewers, the powerful show sealed the deal.