It's a good thing that George Rochberg decided on a career as a writer of music instead of as a writer of prose. His notes for the Octet, which received its premiere performance at the Kennedy Center by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center on Saturday, were so full of hot air that it took an act of will to listen to the music itself with an open mind.
It was worth the effort, however. The Octet, a "Grand Fantasia" for flute, clarinet, horn, piano, violin, viola, cello and bass, follows a well-tended path that threads its way among tonal and atonal harmonies, homophonic and polyphonic textures, and lyrical and declamatory statements.
Its 17-minute single movement is organized roughly into a concerto grosso format with each instrument sharing in both the solo and tutti assignments. The techniques needed are straight from the 19th century, but, nevertheless, the music sounds fresh and is continually interesting.
Violinist Ani Kavafian and pianist John Browning started the evening with a swinging performance of the Ravel Violin Sonata, a piece that is a marvelous amalgamation of blues and the wryness of French popular song. Its intimacy was lost somewhere in the front rows of the concert hall's vastness, but the duo did their valiant best and those in the back reaches just had to imagine how delightful it was.
The performance of the Mendelssohn D Minor Trio was an interesting contrast to that of the Juilliard -- the evening before; quick where the Juilliard's was broad, agile where the Juilliard's was energetic.The Chamber Music Society's was better Mendelssohn, but not quite as captivating music.