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Boston Symphony Chamber Players open season with eclectic mix

From left: Elizabeth Rowe, William Hudgins, and Richard Svoboda performed Piston’s Three Pieces for flute, clarinet, and bassoon.
From left: Elizabeth Rowe, William Hudgins, and Richard Svoboda performed Piston’s Three Pieces for flute, clarinet, and bassoon.Winslow Townson for The Boston Globe

Like a kid cleaned up for the first day of school, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players came to Jordan Hall on Sunday for their season opener pristinely uniformed, musically speaking, via the second of Johann Christian Bach's Op. 11 Quintets. The youngest of Johann Sebastian's sons cultivated a confident, teacher's-pet musical style: lively, unceasing balance, urbane Classical symmetries buffed to a self-possessed shine. The performance — by flutist Elizabeth Rowe, oboist John Ferrillo, violinist Malcolm Lowe, violist Steven Ansell, and cellist Jules Eskin, with John Gibbons on harpsichord — was equally unruffled. It primed an eclectic program full of opportunities to compare ideas of musical order.

Walter Piston's Three Pieces for Flute, Clarinet, and Bassoon — Rowe joined by William Hudgins and Richard Svoboda, respectively — was, on the surface, more barbed. But its orderly underpinnings were merely playing debonair hide-and-seek: Cubist melodic lines eventually refracted into coordination, competing tonalities clashing then gracefully interlocking. The finale was especially nimble, a twittering rush, a flock of birds suddenly turning on a dime.


In Paul Hindemith's Sonata for double bass and piano, intricate musical logic was subsumed into the nature of its featured instrument. In a performance that grew more confident as it went, bassist Edwin Barker and pianist Randall Hodgkinson wove Hindemith's twisty lyricism into a mood congruent with the bass's sound: grand but pleasantly diffuse, deceptively soft-spoken, rumbling with eloquence.

"Shamu" and "Clinical," two recent pieces by Boston-based Jeremy Flower — with James Sommerville on horn, joined by Flower on piano and laptop — borrowed its order from pop and electronica, structures taking their cues from diatonic loops and steady, repeated grooves. Sommerville's unadorned melody in "Shamu" was sampled and stacked into clustered clouds, the gradual accumulation ending just as it was getting interesting. "Clinical" traversed a fuller arc, a series of loops layered in and out, all subtly shifting, but all locked to the same, steady grid. Sommerville pealed more soft lines with burnished warmth; Flower's gently rocking harmonies and methodical, analog synthesized percussion waxed and waned. "Clinical" made its rounds with cool detachment before simply fading out.


No such placidity marked Beethoven's String Trio in G (Op. 9, No. 1). The wryly pugnacious reading by Lowe, Ansell, and Eskin epitomized the young Beethoven's bristling buoyancy, confidently filling the forms, expressively bursting at the seams. It was Viennese Classicism pressing its nose against the window, eyeing an untamed Romantic wilderness, itching to go outside and get dirty.

Music review

Boston Symphony

Chamber Players

At: Jordan Hall, Sunday

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri@gmail.com.