Bravo to the Czech Nonet for the freshness and inventiveness of Tuesday's program. It presented works by three leading composers of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries -- Mozart, Brahms and Martinu -- yet none of the compositions had ever been heard here in the 82 years of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society.
The unusual instrumentation of a nonet (violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn) has something to do with this. Nonetheless, it was a delight all the way, with the 1959 Nonet by Bohuslav Martinu, written for the Czech Nonet, remaining in the mind as a sort of "first among equals."
This is probably because Martinu's Nonet was the only work on the program not competing with a better-known alternate instrumental setting. The composer could write what he wanted, without necessary compromises to make the instruments fit into a pre-existing score. The result is a work of spontaneity and charm, with piquant but not clashing sonorities, by a composer at the summit of his art and his craft.
The churning rhythms and impetuous motion of the Poco Allegro, with singing lines for oboe and bassoon, was an altogether happy opening movement. The contrasting slow movement left a dominant memory of coherent, sonorous ensemble sound, even though its placid lyric line did generate subtle tensions. And the concluding Allegretto was buoyant, with an island of pastoral repose and an architectural sense of rounded shape and a satisfying coda receding into warm, quiet sonorities.
The concert opened with Mozart's so-called Concertante for Lead Violin, K.452, which is an arrangement of the better-known Quintet for Piano and Winds. In this performance, the lead violin, played with winning grace and a sure sense of style by Ludek Ruzicka, tended to meld into the ensemble rather than emphasize its "lead" role. This was largely because Mozart's setting for four strings and four winds (no flute) tended to favor the winds in Mary Seaton Room's warm acoustics. Nonetheless, it was a welcome and different "obligatory" offering in this 250th Mozart anniversary year.
The concluding Brahms Serenade No. 1 in D, Op. 11, had to compete with the much more familiar setting for full orchestra, which Brahms extrapolated, at the insistence of the renowned Joseph Joachim, from his original for eight or nine instruments.
The performance was interesting and instructional. It opens with one of Brahms' typical horn calls, which later reappears to telling effect, and more clearly than in the orchestra, during the movement's development. Likewise, the bucolic "oompah" rhythms of Menuetto I were brought out superbly by the nonet, but the second of the work's two Scherzos sounded lean textured and empty, which may be one reason Brahms was so quick to switch to full orchestration.
The audience gave the players a warm reception, and they responded with an encore, "Little Dance" by Jiri Jaroch, whose fleet lightheartedness and twittering flute theme were among the evening's surprises and delights.
The Czech Nonet
Presented by the Buffalo Chamber Music Society in Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall Tuesday night.