The Carmel Music Society launched its 2015-2016 season yesterday afternoon at Sunset Center in Carmel with a concert by members of the New York Chamber Soloists (NYCS) in a huge program consisting of only two major works: Schubert’s Octet in F Major, D.803 (60 minutes) and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 (45 minutes). Since NYCS consists of a number of distinguished chamber soloists, the makeup of any group sent to various venues can vary depending on which members are already booked for a tour in that particular region.
President Anne Thorp announced from the stage that there had been a substitution among the previously advertised musicians. Violist Ynez Lynch was indisposed and had been replaced by violist Collin Brookes — a disappointment to me, since Ms. Lynch and I had been students together at Yale School of Music many decades previously. However, it turned out that Mr. Brookes is a fine young musician who effortlessly fit in well with the other players.
Since we were hearing what was essentially a “pickup” group of musicians, not surprisingly the first work on the program got off to a somewhat rocky start. We almost had the impression that a group of fine musicians were getting together for a read-through of a work they hadn’t played recently — sort of an informal “house music” session. Initially, the wind instruments were playing so loudly they were covering the strings, and individual solos were a bit rough. However, all this changed abruptly in the second movement Adagio, when clarinetist Allen Blustine’s gorgeous solo emerged from the surrounding ensemble with elegantly shaped phrases and a lovely rich sound that could have melted the heart of a stone. From this point onward, ensemble improved dramatically. Especially memorable was the quiet spooky beginning of the final movement and its gradually developing energy that brought the work to an exciting conclusion.
After intermission we heard Beethoven’s famous Septet, a work admired by his contemporaries and an inspiration to composers in subsequent generations. Once again we heart some fine playing by clarinetist Blustine and a dramatic cadenza in the final movement by violinist Curtis Macomber. An interesting feature of the Septet is the use of a theme Beethoven had previously used in his Piano Sonata, Op. 49, No. 2 (a work much earlier than its opus number might suggest). A curious aspect of the theme’s treatment in the Septet is that it is faster and has less dignity than in the sonata. However, by any definition, this great septet received a fine performance by NYCS and made a powerful impression on an enthusiastic audience.
Following the performance, members of the audience had an opportunity to mingle and meet the performers at a gracious reception in Sunset Center’s lobby.