Thomas Gallant's oboe starred in three of the four pieces heard at the Library of Congress Friday. For the local premiere of Aulis Sallinen's "Echoes From a Play," Op. 66, Gallant joined with the Corigliano Quartet in an unabashedly tonal composition that had the outward thrust of stage music (Sallinen is a leading Finnish opera composer) while making an intimate statement in a chamber music mode. Here Gallant tempered his instrument's essentially reedy honk with the smoothly rounded resonance and depth of a viola.
Friday's concert celebrated the library's Founder's Day, appropriately represented by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge's gently nostalgic Sonata for Oboe and Piano, from 1947. A renowned philanthropist, arts patroness and amateur composer and pianist, Coolidge established foundation funds for library concerts, string instrument collections and music manuscript acquisitions. Gallant fashioned the sonata into a free fantasy occasionally hinting at Edward MacDowell's style. The oboist also led three of the Corigliano players in an invigorating performance of Elliott Carter's Oboe Quartet, a beautifully astringent piece that displayed Gallant's gymnastic capabilities and the group's sensitivity to textures now meaty, now vaporized.
The icing on the cake came with Brahms's Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, the quartet combining forces with pianist Pedja Muzijevic in a sterling account making the most of the music's grandly conflicting metrical impulses
-- Cecelia Porter