NEW WORK Composer Helen Grime, featured in the Winsor Music concert, will also have her work performed in the coming months at the Gardner Museum and at Tanglewood.
As the BSO season continues without a music director, each new conducting debutante (according to Webster's, usually refers to a woman) raises the larger question of who Boston's next major music director will be. But a couple of the smaller groups have actually provided more thoroughly satisfying concerts than the BSO. Peggy Pearson's Winsor Music, for instance. The marvelous oboist founded this chamber series in 1996 and Winsor's thoughtful programming, at Lexington's historical octagonal Follen Church or St. Paul's in Brookline (both with good acoustics for chamber music), developed a tradition of combining classics with new commissions, experienced artists with talented youngsters. It has never disappointed.
The latest concert began with a lilting rendition of Brahms's enchanting Liebeslieder Waltzes, his setting of 18 short love poems of joy and yearning and heartbreak by Georg Friedrich Daumer, for vocal quartet (Kendra Colton, Katherine Growdon, Oberlin freshman tenor Daniel McGrew, Andrew Garland) and two pianists (composer John McDonald and Megan Henderson). And it ended with composer John Harbison leading Bach's Cantata "Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan" ("What God does is done well," BWV 99), a work, Harbison said in his preconcert talk, he's come to regard as more celebratory than he'd first thought. The heart of the cantata is the fifth of its six parts, a sublime duet for soprano and alto — both Colton and Growdon (new to me and a major discovery) in full, radiant voice — with obbligato parts for flute and oboe d'amore — Ann Bobo and Pearson, singing and sobbing in canon along with the singers as they try to convince themselves that it is a delusion to regard the Crucifixion as unbearable.
At the center of the concert, negotiating the space between earthly love and spiritual questioning, was Winsor's newest commission, an oboe quartet by the 30-year-old Scottish composer Helen Grime, whose instrument (like Elliott Carter's) is the oboe, though she no longer plays it in public. It's a remarkable 12-minute piece, running a gamut from exhilarating energy — the three strings (Gabriela Diaz, Noriko Futagami Herndon, Rafael Popper-Keizer) volleying and dancing around a plaintive, long-lined oboe theme — to quietly evanescent soul-searching. It's a major addition to the oboe and chamber-music repertoire. More new pieces by Grime are coming up at the Gardner Museum and Tanglewood.
Violinist Gabriel Boyers's Schubertiade devoted its second "Primary Source" concert at the Goethe-Institut to Schubert. The fine young tenor Gregory Zavracky began with five songs about love and fishing, piquantly accompanied by Tanya Blaich, who in "Die Forelle" ("The Trout") got more of Schubert's insinuating double entendres than Zavracky did, balancing innocence and innuendo. Then Boyers joined Blaich for the loveliest of Schubert's three Sonatinas, the A-minor, and this already joy-filled evening ended with a buoyant and loving version of the famous Trout Quintet, with Blaich and Boyers joined by three equally communicative and dexterous players: violist Emily Rome, cellist Michal Shein, and bassist David Goodchild, growling his own version of Schubert's louche jokes about angling and sex. I looked around during Schubert's dazzling variations on and expansions of the "Trout" and saw everyone in the audience smiling along with the heavenly music.