Chamber music is generally identified with the string quartet as the most natural genre of the kind: a conversation between equals. Naturally the brunt of the repertoire either comes from it or from various combinations with piano: violin, cello in sonatas, trios and also with viola in quartets. There are also various combinations in quintets: strings with piano or clarinet or another string. But there are much fewer string sextets, and scores for seven, eight or nine soloists are rare.
That is why last Saturday´s concert at the Museo de Arte Decorativo was so fascinating, for it combined what for long was one of Beethoven´s most popular works, the Septet, with Schubert´s Octet, which uses the same instruments plus a second violin. Both proved that the blend of strings with winds was not only possible but also extremely rich in timbric possibilities in the hands of master composers.
Beethoven´s Septet was written between 1798 and 1800 in six movements; not the habitual four of the quartets, but rather like a divertimento or serenade. He combined four strings (violin, viola, cello and bass) with two woodwinds (clarinet, bassoon) and one brass (horn). After an introductory Adagio we hear an extended Allegro in sonata form where the constant dialogues are delightful listening. Then, a beautifully melodic Adagio, and a famous minuet which he also used in the Piano Sonata Nº 20. An ample Theme with ornamental variations which give a chance to shine to the individual players, a brilliant Scherzo, and a martial Andante ending in an exhilarating Presto. About 36 minutes of the "other Beethoven", the one still more classic than pre-Romantic, without drama and capable of charm.
Schubert´s Octet was a command by Count Ferdinand Troyer to write a score in the spirit of Beethoven´s Septet. And he did, respecting the number of movements and only inverting the order of the menuet and the scherzo. In 1824 Schubert´s style was fully mature, including his bent for heavenly lengths, for it lasts a full hour. Who cares, when every minute is so beautiful.
As you can imagine, to hear both in the same evening is ideal; but it is also taxing: about 95 minutes of difficult music that needs utmost professionalism and concentration. The group that presented these works calls itself facetiously Ensamble Intergaláctico, and maybe it´s an ad hoc occasion, but I do wish that they will play them in other occasions for this is a first-rate conflation of the best instrumentalists we have. It comprises as first violin the excellent Chilean concertino of the Colón´s Orquesta Estable, Freddy Varela Montero; as second violin, the talented Pablo Sangiorgio; as violist, the admirable Adrián Felizia; as cellist, Gloria Pankaeva, an accomplished Russian artist living here; as bassist, the ever reliable Oscar Carnero. Plus two first desks of the Buenos Aires Phil: Gabriel La Rocca, bassoon; and Fernando Chiappero, horn. And an Argentine who has been working in Chile for decades, clarinettist Luis Rossi.
They preferred to play the Schubert first, perhaps because it is so arduous. Except for some initial horn mistakes, the playing was wholly satisfying, both in mutual comprehension, style and technical accomplishment.
The evening happened to be the last of a cycle that began on June 4 with a concert by Sex Vocibus which I reviewed. It was called National Cycle of Chamber Music, and the knowledgeable programmers were Mariángeles Fernández Rajoy and Francisco Varela. They did a splendid job: twenty concerts of very interesting and renovated programmes. Unfortunately I could only hear two of them due to collisions with other events but I know I missed some wonderful afternoons. May they be able next year to do a similar cycle in the gorgeous main hall of the Museo: just being there is always a renewed joy of refinement and quality. And it´s for free.
For Buenos Aires Herald