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Music Review

Summer Beethoven festival ends with autumnal air

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / August 26, 2008
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CAMBRIDGE - The hazy indolence of summer - "When inspiration lags, and feeling sleeps," as Amy Lowell put it - isn't the most obvious match for the music of Beethoven, with its capacity to engulf the ear like a named storm. Nonetheless, the Boston Chamber Music Society has spent this August offering a miniature four-concert Beethoven festival, concluding this past Saturday.

The concert opened in the wrong season. The Violin Sonata (Op. 24, "Spring") is usually associated with Beethoven's love of nature, although the nickname was not his; in biological terms, it represents a bit of a saltation in Beethoven's evolution, a sudden new lyrical direction for a composer previously known for shock and surprise.

The performance, by violinist Ayano Ninomiya and pianist Mihae Lee, pointed up Beethoven's instrumental cross-fertilization as well, the piano tasked with violin-like figuration, the violin taking on pianistic accompaniment patterns.

But while the virtuosity was clean and precise, the phrasing was anaerobic, without much in the way of nuance or lilt. Insistent ornamentation obscured the melody rather than enhancing it; shapes were smoothly but dutifully polished. Only the all-too-brief Scherzo escaped the hermetic hothouse to give a breath of the outdoors.

BCMS artistic director Ronald Thomas joined Lee for the G minor Cello Sonata (Op. 5, No. 2), which provided a complete contrast. With more moment-to-moment dynamic variation and fancy, the voluble, idiosyncratic young Beethoven burst forth. Thomas teased hints and insinuations out of each phrase with an experienced thespian's command of sudden whispers as well as shouts; Lee followed suit, with greater tonal shades from the keyboard. The performance had more rough edges, but also more spontaneity and revelation.

With all three players taking the stage for Opus 97, the "Archduke" Trio, the question was which tendency would prevail. A split decision, as it turned out - less playful than the Cello Sonata, more breadth and range than the "Spring." It was a reading of self-confident gravity, emphasizing the work's richness and expanse; the Scherzo took on a stately elegance, and even the sportive aspects of the Rondo finale were dispatched with a patrician air. But the Andante cantabile variations were the highlight: deep, still, and luminous, reminiscent of the most quietly empathetic moments of Beethoven's opera "Fidelio." It was an autumnal benediction to the summer series, the oft-stereotyped Romantic-heroic Beethoven attuned to nature, and human nature, in all its seasons.

Boston Chamber Music Society

Ronald Thomas, artistic director

Music of Beethoven

At: Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music, Saturday

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