Name the composer whose music is "perfection." (Hint: The last name starts with B, and it isn't Bach, Beethoven or Brahms.) According to cellist Anner Bylsma, the answer is Boccherini, not surprising, given that this contemporary of Haydn and Mozart wrote hundreds of chamber works, the most highly regarded of which are the string quintets featuring two cellos. What Boccherini lacks in harmonic invention and melodic development, he compensates for with a florid writing style that affords immediate pleasure to performers and audience alike. This was the impression Bylsma and the Smithsonian Chamber Players conveyed Friday night, when they offered a trio of Boccherini string quintets at the Hall of Musical Instruments.
Throughout the concert, Bylsma and fellow cellist Kenneth Slowik took turns anchoring and embellishing, occasionally enlisting support from violist Anthony Martin for added richness, as during a rather sluggish account of the Quintet in F. The amoroso opener to the Quintet in A found this cello tandem with mutes in place, creating wondrous sonorities as they explored beautiful upper-register territory.
Boccherini the naturalist stepped forward for the Quintet in D, which lives up to its "Bird Cage" nickname. Violinists Marilyn McDonald and Jorie Garrigue used tremoloso effects to depict innocent chirping, while Bylsma responded with a gruff hunting-call motif comically suggesting a marksman in hot pursuit of his quarry.