PETERBOROUGH, N.H. -- A concert called "Remembrance of Things Past" kicked off the opening weekend of Monadnock Music, but the program was hardly a nostalgic madeleine. For the festival's 42d season, retiring director James Bolle is taking a well-deserved victory lap, while his trio of successors, artistic directors designate Jonathan Bagg, Laura Gilbert, and Alan Feinberg begin to take over the annual musical infiltration of New Hampshire towns.
Violist Bagg, flautist Gilbert, and pianist Feinberg opened by referencing both the source of the title and the idea with Reynaldo Hahn's "Romanesque." It's a glimpse of how Hahn, a onetime lover and lifelong friend of Marcel Proust, imagined medieval music: stately, serene, ornamented with antique turns. The performance was elegantly restrained, particularly from Feinberg, who kept a velvet, limpid tone even while wrestling wayward sheet music.
Arrangements of older music by contemporary composers showed varying degrees of effacement. Charles Wuorinen's "Bearbeitungen über das Glogauer Liederbuch " dates from 1962, early in this modernist's career; the off-balance rhythms and stream-of-consciousness counterpoint of these 15th-century songs, as recast for flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, augur the sounds of postwar serialism. By contrast, Toru Takemitsu's clarinet and string quartet transcription of Tchaikovsky's "Herbstlied," from his piano cycle "The Seasons," was idiomatically, sentimentally Romantic.
Most interesting was Arvo Pärt's violin-cello-piano "Mozart-Adagio," a gloss on the slow movement of a Mozart piano sonata: Brief passing dissonances in the original become a lens through which the music is refracted, making Mozart's understated emotions bruising and raw. Feinberg closed the first half with a performance of Igor Stravinsky's 1924 Piano Sonata true to the work's impersonal neoclassical machinery: an animatronic 18th-century tableau.
After all the costume drama, the second half was given over to music of direct timelessness: the Clarinet Quintet of Johannes Brahms. One of that composer's last pieces, it's usually assumed to be elegiac and autumnal, but the performers -- clarinetist Pascal Archer, violinists Adela Peña and Jesse Mills, violist Tawnya Popoff, and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer -- weren't going gentle into that good night: It was a fiery, operatic performance, exciting sections ringing with emphatic vibrancy and gentler passages harboring the preternatural stillness of a break in the storm. Archer found the bel canto line in an intense, magical slow movement; the final variations climaxed with unaffected breadth. It was, to put it mildly, memorable.