Music Review

Unity and a rarity mark chamber concert

Marcus Thompson welcomed a longtime friend to play with the BCMS Sunday.
Marcus Thompson welcomed a longtime friend to play with the BCMS Sunday.

CAMBRIDGE — Chamber music is often analogized to a counterpoint of views, but Sunday’s Boston Chamber Music Society concert at Sanders Theatre presented a united front, so much so that when, near the beginning of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Op. 57 Piano Quintet, cellist (and BCMS founder) Ronald Thomas broke a string, one half expected the other players to follow suit. In approach and interpretation, the conversation was that of a like-minded gathering.

In the Shostakovich (restarted after a pause for restringing) those collective qualities were both apparent and effective. Big sounds were particularly big, the strings — violinists Harumi Rhodes and Ida Levin, BCMS artistic director Marcus Thompson on viola, and Thomas — digging in with weighty bows and ample vibrato, and pianist Mihae Lee ringing out with a firm touch. Soft sounds, as in Shostakovich’s furtive, understated Fugue, were hushed and sometimes uncannily still. Phrases and shapes were all on the amplified side, highlights all the brighter, shadows all the darker. Every movement — the obstreperous Scherzo, the silvery Intermezzo, the quizzical, half-smile Finale — was enhanced toward primary colors.

Even a bit of cultural exchange produced a guest on the group’s wavelength. The BCMS opened the annual Montreal Chamber Music Festival last Thursday, and the festival’s director, cellist Denis Brott — a longtime friend of Thompson’s — returned the diplomacy by coming down for Sunday’s concert. Brott and Thomas, along with Lee, started the program with a bit of a rarity, Gian Carlo Menotti’s Suite for Two Cellos and Piano. Composed in 1973 (and, for not a little of the piece, in an idiom that would have been equally at home in 1873), the Suite sometimes gets caught up in its showpiece rationale, most exhaustingly in an unrelenting obstacle course of a Scherzo. But the slower Introduction and Arioso movements are finely spun, and gave Brott and Thomas opportunities to combine their respective flair for lyrical suavity.


On the concert’s second half, Brott returned, joining Levin, Rhodes, Thompson, and Thomas for Schubert’s epic C major String Quintet (D. 956), in which the evening’s penchant for heightened contrast turned all-or-nothing. While the Quintet’s slow music was lovely — the Adagio, in particular, had moments of deeply satisfying elegance — the fast music often became a blur of emphasis, culminating in an aggressive Finale that was the musical equivalent of watching a player spike the ball in the end zone for 10 solid minutes. Still, it came at the end of a long drive of impressive energy — and teamwork.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at