There was no rest for weary BSO principal players this weekend. Less than 24 hours after serving up their third performance of Mahler’s cosmological Third Symphony in as many days, flutist Elizabeth Rowe, oboist John Ferrillo, clarinetist William Hudgins, bassoonist Richard Svoboda and first horn James Sommerville were back onstage, this time at Jordan Hall, serving up the studious jollity of Anton Reicha’s Wind Quintet in E-flat.
The Reicha, which came off sprightlier than it had any right to, was the opening offer of a performance by the Boston Symphony Chamber Players.
All Chamber Players programs showcase the orchestra’s principals in varied chamber works, but Sunday’s concert offered the additional enticement of hearing composer Thomas Adès collaborating with them, not in his own music but as a pianist in selections by Schubert and Janacek.
And so, following the Reicha, violinist Malcolm Lowe and cellist Sato Knudsen joined Adès for Schubert’s “Notturno,” a beautiful study in long-breathed instrumental song. This is, however, the type of music whose delicate charms need the right kind of warmth and attention to be fully realized; they tend to dissipate under the light of a coolly professional performance. So it was, I confess, a relief to hear Sunday’s account delivered with such an abundance of care. The piano playing was full of light, the string lines had an earthy ardor.
Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet came next, with the BSO principals pointing up this music’s brilliantly modern surfaces, its folkish colorings, and its coruscating wit. And the program concluded with Janacek’s Concertino for piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, horn, and bassoon. This rarely spotted chamber work — the kind of piece for which one needs a protean troupe like this one — feels at times like a piano concerto, framed in four movements, each fired by memories from the composer’s youthful encounters with wild animals. Owls, squirrels, and hedgehogs all make appearances, but one hardly needed to follow the work’s programmatic thread to appreciate this boldly exuberant score. Adès, who has a special affinity for Janacek’s music, bounded through the solo piano part with great relish, and his energy seemed infectious for the ensemble as a whole.
Overall, arriving midway through Adès’s tenure as the BSO’s first artistic partner, the afternoon underlined the diversity of contributions he has been making. In this concert, he was following in the guest-pianist footsteps of players such as Emanuel Ax and Leif Ove Andsnes. On Thursday, he’ll be back on the podium leading the full orchestra in his own music as well as selections by Ligeti, Stravinsky, and Beethoven. And this summer, he’ll add still another role to his portfolio, as curator of Tanglewood’s Festival of Contemporary Music.
It would be hard to overstate the value of having a creative figure of Adès’s stature contributing in this range of roles, bringing vibrant life to older repertoire, and connecting contemporary music to the more traditional currents of the symphony orchestra. Clearly, looking ahead, his initial three-year appointment should be just the beginning of this relationship.
Boston Symphony Chamber Players
With Thomas Adès
At Jordan Hall, Jan. 21Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.