CONCORD — Strings break. It is a professional hazard that violinists, violists, and cellists confront each time they go onstage. On Sunday afternoon, Steven Ansell and his three colleagues had barely launched into the first piece on their ambitious chamber music program, the world premiere of “Concordance,” a piano quartet by Yehudi Wyner, when one of the strings on Ansell’s viola snapped.
“Let’s start over,” said Wyner from the keyboard. And after a brief pause for string replacement, that’s what they did. A pleasantly unscripted moment, it gave the capacity audience a welcome opportunity to hear again the opening of an eloquently contemplative new work by one of Boston’s most productive and visible musical citizens.
“Concordance,” commissioned by the Concord Chamber Music Society with support from the Harvard Musical Association, plays on connections with the historic town of Concord — and with the words “concord” (in the sense of harmony or peace) and “dance.” Serious but lyrical, for the most part transparently scored, the piece is constructed along simple clear lines that seem to reflect the town’s sturdily austere Colonial architecture. In a short commentary, Wyner admitted that “Concordance” might seem simple compared with some of the other music he has composed over a long and varied career, much of it spent as a professor of composition at Brandeis University. “But there’s a difference between seeking simplicity and dumbing down,” he added.
The piano opens with a three-note motif that becomes a unifying gesture throughout, used to demarcate the short sections. There is little virtuosic display for any of the four players (along with Wyner and Ansell, violinist Wendy Putnam and cellist Michael Reynolds), who contribute equally, and often play in unison (concord, again). The language is basically tonal and pleasantly modern. Slower tempos and sustained note values dominate. “Concordance” succeeds in creating a deeply philosophical mood and haunting sonic world; it deserves to find a place in the piano quartet repertoire.
Maurice Ravel’s flinty and daunting “Sonata for Violin and Cello” (1921) followed. Intellectual and astringent, it is a bold departure from the lush sensuality of “La Valse” and “Daphnis and Chloe.” Putnam and Reynolds played with brilliant technique, focus, and command, particularly in the second movement (“Très vif”), with its Hungarian-style dance rhythms and pizzicato explosions. In the last movement, jaggedly dissonant phrases reflect each other like pieces of a broken mirror.
Mozart’s witty and playful Piano Quartet K. 493 occupied the second half. The performance was heartfelt rather than academically accurate, with a nice light touch, and showed the deep level of mutual respect and comfortable camaraderie existing between these four fine musicians.
Harlow Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.