As was the case with yesterday's recital, there was considerable variation across this afternoon's extensive program of offerings. Once again, however, there were positive surprises, the most impressive of which was a truly stimulating reading of the first movement of Franz Schubert's C Major string quintet D. 956, scored for two cellos rather than two violas. This is another gem from Schubert's final year, which, as I have previously written, was "a time when he was as adventurous in composition as he was prolific." The added weight on the cello side is just the beginning of the adventure, as is the two-measure crescendo from piano to forte that opens the movement that the students performed. This was decidedly a case in which all five students were intimately connected to both Schubert's score and each other. Admittedly, I may have some bias, having come to this recital after having endured some rather lackluster readings of Schubert in cyberspace; but, since this is a piece I know very well, I feel I can have some objectivity in saying that this was a reading well worth the wait of most of the afternoon.
There was also a somewhat more evident sense of wit in this second recital, particularly in a wind quintet performance of Malcolm Arnold's setting of three sea shanties. Arnold begins with a truly inebriated paraphrase of "The Drunken Sailor" and from there goes madly off in all directions (as James Thurber once said). Wind players cannot get away with smiling while playing; so the fact that they "got" the humor of Arnold's approach had more to do with the fearless renditions of his most raucous gestures, particularly coming from the horn, which gets out of line with all sorts of Whitman-like yawps. If yesterday's effort to make fun of Rachmaninoff may have been lost in the performers' seriousness, Arnold's particular approach to humor could not be suppressed.