As if to refute the premise that modest is necessarily mediocre, enterprising Charles Wadsworth brought his Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society to the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Saturday night with a program built mostly of less grandly scaled and less-known opuses.
Things started well, with deft little inventions by three of the giants -- Dvorak, Haydn and Brahms. All were cases where modesty of proportions meant the composers could let their hair down and write mainly melody, without any need to develop or complicate it.
Dvorak's Bagatelles for two violins, cello and harmonium are five flowing and sometimes funny songs and dances put together as a miniature suite. They can be done with either piano or harmonium, a delicate keyboard instrument with about the decibel level of a guitar. Wadsworth wisely used the lesser instrument, because of the gentle dimensions.
Then came three Haydn songs for three or four voices singing together. The middle one, called "Eloquence," was a knockout -- a peaceful song of praise with countermelodies almost as lyric as the main line. The last, a child's "Evening Praise to God," is Haydn the prime musical jokester.
Five similar Brahms songs followed. They were richer but less inspired, except the last, "On the Way to the Beloved," a lilting love song.
The program then changed course with a concerto for piano and winds written by the late Wallingford Riegger. It is clipped and elliptical in the manner of late Stravinsky and is all together enjoyable.
The work with the grandest pretensions, an octet for clarinet, horns and strings by Ludwig Spohr, was the only mediocrity. Spohr was a contemporary of Schubert's, and there are superficial resemblances to the Schubert octet (which came later). But Spohr's consistent failure to do anything harmonically interesting promptly brought on the doldrums.