Dallas — Chamber Music International sponsors some initiatives unique in the Metroplex. One of these is the CMI Young Artists Solo Competition, to be expanded in 2015 into a Solo and Chamber Music Competition for high-school-aged musicians. This year’s winners performed Friday evening in a pre-concert recital. Samantha Choo of Jasper, Texas, played the first movement of Wieniawski’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, while Brian Zhao of Plano performed the first movement of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor. Both musicians availed themselves admirably. Samantha demonstrated a big, confident sound and a sweet tone, while Brian exhibited unusual sensitivity and solid technique. These young musicians were a pleasure to hear, and have the potential to mature into fine, professional-caliber players in the coming years.
If they stayed to hear the remainder of the program, they might have gotten a glimpse of what the future holds for them. Chamber music, in many respects, represents the pinnacle of musical performance: musicians must both have superlative individual technique, but also come together to perform collaboratively, often with unfamiliar musicians.
Sometimes, as with Friday’s performance of Brahms’s String Quintet No. 2 in G Major Op. 111, this collaboration of fine musicians produces something truly magnificent. Brahms wrote this quintet very late in his career, after a frustrating failed attempt to write a fifth symphony, and it took so much out of him that he told his publisher that this was to be the last piece he composed. Fortunately, that was not quite the case. But this great quintet in some respects represents the apotheosis of Brahms’s career, and it requires musicians worthy of it.
Luckily, Chamber Music International supplied us with musicians who were worthy, indeed. Cellist Anthony Elliott set the standard from the beginning in the well-known cello solo that opens the first movement. His playing overall was marked by sensitivity, nuance, and musicality. Balance was a bit off, though: although all five players have parts marked “forte,” there could have been a bit more sense of foreground and background. Still, this is a minor quibble in an excellent performance. Brahms’s addition of a second viola to the usual string quartet instrumentation allowed violists Che-Yen Chen and Susan Dubois to create a rich, robust viola sound, and when the two alto instruments shared the spotlight, the results were breathtaking. The group shaped phrases beautifully—each phrase ended with a sort of musical parenthesis, rather than being chopped off as is too often the case with less capable musicians. The musicians were attentive and engaged with each other, resulting in fine ensemble work—this is often the downfall of chamber music performed by musicians who do not work together regularly, so it was particularly pleasing to see here.
The Mozart Divertimento in D Major fared rather less well. It featured violinists Nai-Yuan Hu and Felix Olschofka and violist Che-Yen Chen, all of whom also performed the Brahms Quintet, as well as Jeffrey Bradetich on double bass and William Scharnberg and Michael Morrow on horn. Ensemble and individual playing here was a good bit less polished than in the Brahms. Bradetich performed ably, but both horn players and first violinist Hu had a few too many errors early on. In his defense, though, Hu had by far the most difficult, exposed part in the Mozart, and likewise had a demanding part in the Brahms. By the last of the seven movements, the group had settled in. They took the final Rondo at a breakneck tempo, but were technically much more solid than at the beginning of the piece.