In the program, the National Academy of Sciences suggests that demonstrating "the complementarity between science and the arts" is a motive behind the free chamber music series in its Buckminster Fuller-style auditorium. But last night the program also promised a performance of Villa-Lobos's "Jet Whistle," a flute and cello duet containing references to train noises. Here music and technology at first display their mutual infatuation, and then nudge each other like two impatient executives in a supermarket checkout line. Flutist Alice Weinreb handled her percussion part with wry humor; cellist David Hardy played the musical joke a bit too straight, lapsing into unseemly lyricism.
After these antics, the mood was right for Prokofiev. Although the Quintet makes clear his seriousness about continuing the classic tradition of chamber music, Prokofiev's apparent orthodoxy is quite tricky, nourished on contradiction. The Theme and Variations combines rich harmony with rhythmic grace and vigor. As is true of almost anything by Prokofiev, its melodies twist and stretch tonality; listeners feel modulations as jolts. The performers helped to communicate these irregularities as well as the work's shapely melodic lines. Occasionally, they lost a sense of balance in the momentum; swells and accents were a bit too forceful.
Here, as well as in Milhaud's Suite, players seemed to warm up in the middle of things. Somewhere near the music's climax, mistakes would cease and the group would start playing more cohesively. Suffering from no noticeable trials in the grand finale, Hummel's Septet in D Minor, the players celebrated their victory. The glittering arpeggios and trills were executed with fine fluency, without dissolving into mere gloss.