Cruising to American ports of call
All is fair in love, war, and apparently chamber music. The kind of programming that the Boston Symphony Orchestra would typically not dream of in Symphony Hall - a concert made up of four works written within the last half-century - went over just fine in Jordan Hall on Sunday afternoon, as the Boston Symphony Chamber Players ambitiously closed their season with music by Irving Fine, Lukas Foss, Osvaldo Golijov, and Michael Gandolfi.
The afternoon's printed program also contained a bit of ensemble news: This chamber troupe, staffed by principal players from the orchestra, will perform aboard the Queen Mary 2 this September in connection with a Tanglewood sponsorship by the Cunard cruise line. That voyage will be trans-Atlantic, but Sunday's excursion in Jordan Hall stuck mostly to American ports of call.
The first piece was Fine's 1948 Partita for Wind Quintet, a genial specimen of midcentury neoclassicism at its most colorful and elegantly crafted, here given a lucid and graceful presentation by Elizabeth Rowe, John Ferrillo, William R. Hudgins, Richard Svoboda, and James Sommerville. BSO assistant conductor Julian Kuerti was on hand to lead the next two works - Foss's "For Aaron" and Golijov's "Zhuang Zhou's Dream" - both of which required additional forces from the BSO.
Foss's work, premiered at Tanglewood in 2002, is a leisurely, big-hearted tribute to Copland, his longtime friend and colleague. The processional pacing of its opening, its extroverted flute writing, and its closing brass flourishes, among many other touches, make it feel unmistakably like music of wide-open spaces - as bright, crisp, and Coplandesque as a work could be while still retaining Foss's individual stamp. By contrast, the Golijov, adapted from portions of the composer's recent score to Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth," is a brooding, introverted meditation aimed at more liminal spaces, full of expressive woodwind lines welling up above dark, turbulent strings. Kuerti and colleagues took expert measure of both pieces.
The program finished strongly with Gandolfi's septet for strings and woodwinds titled "Plain Song, Fantastic Dances." The opening movement, "St. Botolph's Fantasia," ingeniously refracts a Gregorian chant melody; the middle movement, "Tango Blue," is full of smoky woodwind lines and plucked string commentary; and the finale, "Quick Step," bustles over fresh terrain before looping back to the opening chant material. The Chamber Players dispatched the piece as if it were written for them to play. Actually, it was. They gave the premiere in 2005, after a commission from the St. Botolph Club. It deserves to stay in their repertoire.