Chamber Music Society

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center opened its season at the Kennedy Center Saturday night with a program of Handel and Mozart, followed by the Schubert Octet, which the society's guru Charles Wadsworth correctly described in a little speech as "almost 60 minutes of pure joy."

And if the evening did not quite measure up to either Wadsworth's or Schubert's standards, the musicians probably were not mainly to blame. Neither the players nor the listeners were consistently up to snuff, and the culprit was, of all things, the Kennedy Center Concert Hall's heating system.

Obviously we are at a sharp change of season, and it is a demanding period for the engineers who have to balance heat against air-conditioning, but the high temperatures and stuffiness that enveloped the Concert Hall were stifling.

If ever there was a piece of music that needs to breathe, it is the Schubert Octet, in which the five strings and three winds flow along in an array of Viennese dance rhythms and infectious melody that was not to be approached again until Johann Strauss Jr. came along.

Sometimes the performance had the right give and take,, but the pattern was erratic. Schubert often plays off the clarinet conversationally against the first violin, and they must be carefully coordinated. Clarinetist David Shifrin pointed the dance rhythms strongly, and violinist James Buswell's replies tended to be pallid. This music demands a richer tone, also, than Buswell was producing.

Still, the octet's symphonic textures were often irresistible. And the same was true with the opening work, Handel's Concerto for Organ, Two Oboes, Strings and Continuo in G Minor--which was performed by 11 players. It had the e'lan that was mostly missing from the Schubert.

Mozart's little G Major Flute Quartet was squeezed in between. It sounded a bit lost in the large spaces of the Concert Hall. But Paula Robison's elegant playing was the high point of the evening.