The Freer and Sackler Galleries’ Meyer Concert Series is a cozy affair, with popular groups making repeat appearances. For many years, the concerts have been anchored by the reliably superb Musicians From Marlboro, with other offerings tucked in between. On Thursday night, the program was less successful, with a performance by the Festival Pablo Casals Prades Collective, a touring offshoot of the eponymous summer festival in the French Pyrenees.
The Prades musicians are all of international stature, but the sum was something less than the parts on this occasion.
The programming was a Rubik’s Cube of sorts — giving five of the six artists three pieces to play, and four of the six works having an Asian connection, presumably in an attempt to mesh with the galleries’ collections.
I’m not sure the results were worth the effort. Concertgoers generally want to hear fine music in well-prepared performances; themes and tie-ins do not count for much.
Here, Jeajoon Ryu’s “Three Madrigals” was enjoyable, but it is unlikely anyone would have guessed it had been written by an Asian composer (it sounded at times like Martinu or Vaughan Williams). The dreadful arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “October” by Toru Takemitsu for strings and clarinet sounded like it was being sight-read, and during Isang Yun’s shrieking “Piri” for solo clarinet, a number of patrons stuck their fingers in their ears (and I saw two walk out).
The Fauré Piano Quartet No. 1 was lovingly played, but it was a mistake to have the piano lid fully raised, as the dynamics all stayed in the same narrow forte/mezzo-forte range as the strings struggled to project. Debussy’s sublime Violin Sonata had plenty of fire, but I had wished that violinist Kyoko Takezawa had not yawed and pitched so. It not only was uncomfortable to watch but it also bled into the music-making, with no two notes sounding like they belonged together.
For one used to hearing Marlboro-quality chamber music, this evening was a slog.
Battey is a freelance writer.