Celebrating 10 seasons, with help from the spirit of Bach

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / September 22, 2009

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CONCORD - The Concord Chamber Music Society got itself a birthday present to open its 10th season: a new trio for violin, clarinet, and piano from composer Michael Gandolfi, commissioned with funds from the Harvard Musical Association. “Line Drawings’’ was inspired by the improvisational fluidity of Picasso, but the resulting emphasis on melodic counterpoint also made for music in the spirit of Bach.

The five movements are all rounds and mirrors, echoes, and games. An energetic “Canon, Cut and Paste’’ is followed by “A Farewell to Old Friends,’’ a looped accompaniment and a stoic melody circling each other. “Hidden Variable’’ features Johann Sebastian himself behind the scenes, funneling scampering notes into a deconstructed chorale; “Obbligato Aria’’ finds a perpetually rising chaconne in the piano pasted over with self-similar fragments from the other two instruments. A bouncy finale, “Chickens,’’ domesticates Ligeti and lounge music in the same off-kilter, jazzy coop. It’s music of concise clarity.

Violinist Wendy Putnam, founder and director of the society, joined by her Boston Symphony Orchestra colleague Thomas Martin on clarinet and Vytas Baksys on piano, gave the piece a crisp, objective surface, but also found pools of gentle melancholy when the tempo eased. The three then offered Béla Bartók’s 1938 “Contrasts,’’ Hungarian dances transmuted into rhapsodic modernist gold; in this performance, the foot-stomping took a back seat to Bartók’s rich instrumental texture.

Putnam and Baksys opened the afternoon with a rather perfunctory reading of Beethoven’s G-major violin sonata, op. 96, sluggish and boxy in its phrasing. But they redeemed themselves with a keen rendition of Lukas Foss’s 1989 “Central Park Reel,’’ cheerfully fractured country fiddling that becomes, in a nod to its referenced location, a bluegrass common for uptown modernism and downtown minimalism.

The piece ends with both instruments electronically reverberated into a teeming urban cacophony, the musicians drowned out by their very own population explosion. It was typical of Foss that he would portray that prospect as both unsettling and joyous.

CONCORD CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY At: Concord Academy Performing Arts Center, Sunday

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