Chamber Players deliver a charmed performance

By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / October 19, 2010

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If a brand-new piece has old-fashioned charm, does that mean that charm itself has become old-fashioned? The Boston Symphony Orchestra Chamber Players posited that question on Sunday with a program that compared venerable charm, music that purposefully plundered ancient charms, and a world premiere that deployed modern charms of sundry accents.

The premiere was a deft chamber symphony from the musical polymath André Previn; the work’s not-inconsiderable charm began with its title, “Octet for Eleven,’’ a conflation of Previn’s originally projected dimensions and subsequent expansion to, indeed, 11 players. The piece balances contrasting styles and moods, light and dark, though a poised urbanity wins out in the end.

An out-of-focus wind chorale bumps up against some lyrical string Americana; a lush crush of clustered low dissonance sets up a cinematic, love-theme-worthy melody for violin (Malcolm Lowe). Bassist Edwin Barker’s angular solo to start the slow movement turned into tangled, intense counterpoint, setting the table for skittish syncopations. In the finale, precipitous hurtles for horn and trumpet (James Sommerville and Thomas Rolfs) ignite more juxtapositions of bounciness and ballad. Everything feels casually accomplished. The music gets by largely on personality — but how many personalities are as cultured and multifaceted as Previn’s? “Octet for Eleven’’ is civilized good company.

Bohuslav Martinu’s “Four Madrigals’’ for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon (John Ferrillo, William Hudgins, and Richard Svoboda, offering a sly, sinuous interpretation) nods toward ancient music but revels in blurring the line between theme and accompaniment — the music seemed to nimbly slip in and out of rich, stylized costumes. The trio was joined by Sommerville and flutist Elizabeth Rowe for Darius Milhaud’s similar, faux-archaic “La Cheminée du Roi René,’’ which enlivens its courtly ornaments and modal atmosphere with smudged harmonies and a gentle, dissonant haze.

Previn was scheduled as the pianist for Mozart’s G minor Piano Quartet (K. 478), but, as violist Steven Ansell announced, an unfortunate contest between hand and car door (“the door won’’) put Previn out of commission. Pianist Randall Hodgkinson stepped in to anchor a debonair reading, his deep, pearlescent touch a seamless fit with the refined luxury of the strings (Lowe, Ansell, and cellist Jules Eskin). The four tweaked their own decorum in the Rondo finale, the strings rifling their accents with glee, Hodgkinson offering up a nifty, quirky cadenza. Aristocratic eccentricity is, after all, another kind of charm.

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at


At: Jordan Hall, Sunday