With symphony orchestras in their vacation retreats, summertime is musically empty in many cities. Some organizations try to fill the void with light cocktail music in the form of Promenades and Pops concerts, but the Harvard Summer School Chamber Players have gone the more uncompromising route with the inventive programming and uniformly high quality performances of their Monday night series.
Last Monday, this group of talented students and internationally known professionals performed four infrequently heard works with their usual conviction and energy. Leon Kirchner, whose talents as a coach were in evidence throughout the concert, showed himself to be a formidable triple threat by appearing as the pianist in his own Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello (1954). This piece uses a dissonant, non-tonal vocabulary, articulated in driving rhythms and evocative melodic fragments. The result is an almost Romantic sense of clearly defined broad gestures. Kirchner, along with violinist Donald Weilerstein and cellist Laurence Lesser, responded to these qualities in a lean, rhythmically taut performance that conveyed a sense of urgent, breathless energy.
The Chamber Players continued this summer's Schumann cycle with the seldom-performed Piano Quartet (Op.47). The players attentively followed Weilerstein's expressive leadership in a lyrical reading that avoided histrionics. The string sound was beautifully blended, while Steven Finnerty soared through the luscious cello part with a big tone and impressive style.
Reaching even further beyond the standard repertory, the all-Harvard team of Richard Kogan, piano, Lynn Chang and Robert Portney, violins, played a Trio by Moskowski, a turn-of-the-century Polish composer. The threesome showed their justifiably condescending attitude toward this shallow piece by appearing in Harvard sweatshirts, matching musical kitsch with visual kitsch. Fortunately, they treated this bubble gum in a sufficiently good-humored way to prevent its sweetness from becoming sickening.
The only trouble spot in the concert was the Weber Trio in G minor. One of only three chamber works by Weber, this piece changes mood rapidly, sometimes striving toward the darker musical depths, sometimes, as in the second movement, content to rely on an engaging dance-like tune. While Kogan showed a sensitive ability to vary his tone and style in response to the shifting demands of the music, flutist Laurel Zucker tended toward shrill, unsupported bursts of sound in the high register in trying to create big dramatic events, and cellist Kevin Plunkett, with gruff attacks and a hard-edged tone seemed unwilling to respond to the lyricism of the writing.
The Chamber Players are in an enviable artistic position. Subsidized by the Harvard Summer School, they are freer than most groups from the demands of the box-office--instead of trotting out the usual warhorses, they are offering a fascinating assortment of twentieth century works, lesser known works by the great masters (the Beethoven Sextet, for example) and a weekly sampling from the varied Schumann literature. The Chamber Players have made air-conditioned Sanders Theater an oasis in the summer musical wasteland.
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