Speaking from the stage at Sunday’s concert by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, clarinetist William Hudgins offered a brief program for each of the six movements of Prokofiev’s Quintet for winds and strings. Though the Quintet began life as a circus-themed ballet score, he said, there is no conclusive evidence that its movements carry specific connotations. That did not stop Hudgins and his colleagues from suggesting that one movement might depict a ballerina, another a group of tumblers, still another an abrupt challenge to a duel.
This was a model instance of music’s ability to suggest, to imply, to indicate without complete specificity. If painting excels at depiction, music’s evocational power is supreme. Whether, for example, Prokofiev meant the Quintet’s fourth movement to portray a tightrope walker, the music’s grim, icy tension made it seem a fitting scenario, particularly in the Chamber Players’ dynamic and colorful performance.
To some degree, every work on Sunday’s program showed this capacity. André Jolivet’s “Pastorales de Noël” for flute, bassoon, and harp were deftly crafted miniatures that evoked aspects of the Christmas story — the Star, the Magi — with a very French sense of elegance that was beautifully honored by harpist Jessica Zhou, flutist Elizabeth Rowe, and bassoonist Richard Svoboda.
Daniel Crozier’s “Masque,” a quartet for oboe and strings commissioned by the Boston ensemble Winsor Music, was constructed like an operatic scena, with the oboe as leading character. All the action was left to the imagination, but it came across vividly in the lithe stream of melody the composer gives the oboe (expertly played by John Ferrillo).
The other recent piece was Fred Lerdahl’s “Fire and Ice,” a setting for soprano and double bass of a Robert Frost poem, written for the Tanglewood Music Center’s 75th anniversary, in 2015. Lerdahl alternates straightforward declamation of the text in close harmony with fragmented outbursts in which the two instruments eventually diverge to the extremes of their ranges, a simple but devastating way of evoking the poem’s apocalyptic dichotomy. A complex piece, it was brilliantly performed by soprano Elizabeth Fischborn and bassist Edwin Barker.
The afternoon ended with a fine account of Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G minor. The performance managed to avoid the usual pitfall of this piece — allowing the piano to overwhelm the strings — by dint of the sensitivity and restraint of pianist David Deveau’s playing. The slow movement, with its anguished outbursts, emerged with uncommon intensity. The finale, with its aura of gypsy dances, had some untidy moments but made for a thrilling conclusion.
BOSTON SYMPHONY CHAMBER PLAYERS
At Jordan Hall, Sunday