This is more than a review of a concert. It is a tribute to a wonderful idea that was hatched over 35 years ago by a group of professional musicians, including members of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who gathered at a house at 1807 Sansom Street to make music together for their own enjoyment. The idea was to take the music to the public, but to retain the informality and intimacy of the private ensembles.
I have been attending the concerts of 1807 & Friends almost since the beginning of their run. There have been subtle changes in the personality of the music making, depending on the music director. Bass player Miles B. Davis tended to emphasize core repertoire, and pianist Andrew Willis shared his keen interest in new music. Nancy Bean, the current director, carries on in both of those directions, adding a particular zeal for uncovering obscure but compelling works.
Throughout the years, 1807 & Friends has maintained a thrillingly high level of artistic quality, with a very strong guest list, including Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax. Besides Ax, many pianists — including such superb chamber musicians as Cynthia Raim, Natalie Zhu, and the pianist for this concert, Marcantonio Barone — have returned repeatedly. All join the core ensemble as friends, egos set aside: Honoring the composer is the order of the day.
That familiarity of music-making was abundantly apparent at this concert. The highlight of the evening was the grand Schubert Trio in B flat, which took up the entire second half. It is extraordinary how expansive and multihued this music is, with merely three instruments in use; it recalls Robert Schumann’s awestruck description of Schubert’s “heavenly lengths.” This performance had an exhilarating momentum and inner energy, and a keen collaborative sense of voicing that rendered an astonishingly beautiful texture. A very similar glow emanated from the sprightly Haydn.
Andrew Rudin’s strong new trio, Circadia, was also presented with a confidence and artistic cohesion that was remarkable for a world premiere. The title refers to the natural bodily rhythms of the day, but I was drawn to another metaphorical allusion, geography. Rudin’s four-movement work appeared in my imagination as a bird’s-eye view of a beautiful valley surrounded by rugged mountains (the outer movements), with the composer’s unique and rigorously disciplined voice adding filters that made this landscape otherworldly.