While it’s by no means unprecedented to hear world premiere performances at the chamber series, it’s not a particularly common event, either — particularly when the composer comes from a place like Iran. But it happened at Tuesday’s Chamber VIII event. However, let me take the program’s events in proper order.
The opening selection was a fairly short early piece by French romantic tunesmith Camille Saint-Saens: his Tarantella for Flute, Clarinet and Piano, Op. 6. You may recall that the Tarantella is a particularly fast and manic form of Italian dance, named after the old wives’ tale that victims of the tarantula spider’s bite have to dance long and hard in order to stay alive. This example started out at a lively, but hardly frantic pace, but it soon grew in speed, volume, and intensity. It was very Italianate in sound and style, with melodies in what sounded to me like the Neapolitan style. Flute sensation Tara Helen O’Connor and clarinet-meister Todd Palmer joined forces with pianist Pedja Muzijevic for this one. And, as Pedja laid down a perky piano foundation, our woodwind wizards went to town, their instruments intertwining, snakelike, in precise and perfect accord. It seemed almost miraculous that they were able to stay together in their final mad dash to the end — amazing!
Next we got to revel in some brainy barnstorming from the great J.S. Bach, in the form of his Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C Minor. Since Bach was in the habit of recycling his previously composed concertos (many of which were lost) for different instruments to expand a given work’s performance prospects. Accordingly, this one also exists as a concerto for two harpsichords (often played now on two pianos). Host Geoff Nuttal told us that playing Bach like this was a particular joy for him, since Bach wrote nothing for the string quartet — and that touring and playing most of the year with his St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ) means he has to wait for Spoleto to get to perform his music.