During its promising five-year existence, the Discovery Ensemble has forged a reputation for carefully conceived programs combining standard repertoire items with newer, more experimental music. For Sunday afternoon’s concert, conductor Courtney Lewis and his musicians “discovered” “Five Images After Sappho” by contemporary Finnish/American composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, a sparkly, impressionistic setting of songs by the enigmatic connoisseur of love, the Greek poet Sappho. The standard item was Beethoven’s sturdy, but always welcome, Symphony No. 2, heard considerably less often than the overplayed later ones.
The “Divertimento” by Hungarian composer Bela Bartok occupied a sort of middle ground. It’s not exactly a standard, but too old (composed in 1939) to be considered a discovery, despite its unmistakably “modern” musical language and emotional atmosphere. Under the buoyant and precise command of its young maestro, the no less youthful ensemble provided idiomatic and inspired accounts of all three pieces, transporting us to three very different musical destinations in space, time, and intent.