Music featuring the oboe is usually very old or very new, and a little bit of each was offered last night in the Terrace Theater by An Die Musik, a New York chamber ensemble that takes its name and its inspiration from one of Schubert's most beautiful songs--a tribute and dedication to that "holy art." Take a look at its membership and it seems at first an odd sort of group: oboe, piano and string trio. It cannot even perform the song from which it takes its name without inviting a guest singer.
But last night's program showed that these five instruments can handle a remarkable variety of music, dating from the beginning of the classical period until just yesterday. And in the hands of these performers the music is handled superbly.
It was a daring idea to open the program with the Washington premiere of the "Aria" written for this group by Washington composer Jerzy Sapieyevski. In a miscellaneous program new works are usually sandwiched somewhere around the middle so that it will be hard for people to avoid them by arriving late or leaving early. But in this case, there was no problem; the "Aria" (really almost a miniature concerto for oboe, piano and strings) was a marvelous curtain-raiser--bright, melodious and full of interesting ideas about how such a curious ensemble can work together. Particularly impressive is the virtuoso music written for the oboe, begining with a lung-cracking sustained note and including some passages that require dazzling agility.
Some fine music was also given to the other instruments (more so than in Haydn's slight but charming Quartet for oboe and strings in B-flat), but oboist Gerard Reuter clearly held the spotlight in Sapieyevski's bright, refreshing music and richly earned it with a brilliant performance. Between the two pieces with oboe, the string section (violinist Eliot Chapo, violist Maureen Gallagher and cellist Daniel Rothmuller) played Dohnanyi's well-knit Serenade in C, Op. 10--a beautiful exploration of the textures available to this seldom-used combination of instruments. The program ended with everyone but the oboist (who had certainly earned a rest) sharing the honors equally in a brilliant, beautifully balanced performance of Schumann's splendid Piano Quartet in E-flat.
Even in a city as blessed as Washington is with fine chamber music, the first visit of this ensemble was a noteworthy event.