Programming has always been a strong point of the Theater Chamber Players during their decade and a half of enriching the Washington musical scene. Codirector and gifted pianist Dina Koston does most of it, and she never schedules anything that does not strike her as consequential. Yesterday's program, concluding this season at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, was a model of what makes this group special -- even in one of the country's most active chamber music cities.
Perhaps the most conventional work on the program was the most famous, Brahms' Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100. This three-movement creation, written about a decade before his death in 1897, is one of the first steps toward the autumnal, postsymphonic Brahms -- in which, having proved the match of Beethoven in his four symphonies, he then relaxed and became Brahms the natural lyricist, and one of the supreme ones.
Violinist Pina Carmirelli's command of the sweetness of this lyricism was unquestioned. Her lovely but small tone, though, robbed the sonata of some of its opulence. Koston's performance of the taxing piano part had both sweetness and weight. It was really outstanding.
A Theater Chamber Players recital would be incomplete without something new. In this case, it was the distinguished Piano Quintet that the American Neo-Romantic John Harbison wrote in 1981. The quintet was written on a commission in the name of artist Georgia O'Keeffe. It clearly reflects, especially in its concluding elegy, Harbison's "difficult personal circumstances under which the work was composed." You hear a despair here that recalls Barto'k, without being quite the same.
One wonders if it may not be increasingly true that when contemporary composers seek to write music of wrenching personal meaning they will resort to a tonal, and more accessible, idiom -- even if it is by indirection, as in the great Berg Violin Concerto. Yesterday's performance was just as fine as the one by the Meliora Quartet at the University of Maryland last winter. It made it clearer than ever that this is a work that will last. Koston's piano playing, once again, was particularly strong. This is a piece that is going to stay around.
The concert ended in a shower of sophisticated euphoria, with Mendelssohn's String Quintet in B-flat, Op. 87.