In 19th-century Vienna, there was a special social gathering known as the "Schubertiad," an evening event that brought together performers and friends in a friendly home environment to participate in and hear Schubert pieces, with the composer at the keyboard. Tuesday evening the Smithsonian Chamber Players re-created this atmosphere, transforming the Hall of Instruments into a salon, albeit a large one, and making the audience feel what it must have been like to be among Schubert's circle of friends.
Violinist Marilyn McDonald, violist Judson Griffin and cellist Kenneth Slowik opened with an unfinished work -- in this case, the String Trio in B flat, from 1816. An immature but charming fragment, it set the stage for the wealth of melodiousness that followed.
Baritone Jan Opalach assumed the role of Johann Michael Vogl, a Schubert contemporary and one of his finest song interpreters. In the course of six lieder, he used his resonant voice, sensitive phrasing and flawless diction to bring across the mostly lovestruck lyrics of Goethe and Schiller. James Weaver, accompanying on fortepiano, had some difficulty adjusting to the singer's volume.
Schubert's ultimate chamber opus, the Quintet in C Major, featured the eminent Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma alongside the Smithsonian Players. This Quintet began and ended strong, with a few bumps on the way by the violins. Slowik and Bylsma made a powerful tandem, extracting every ounce of lyricism that permeates each movement.