Fort Worth — On Saturday the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth brought pianist Alessandro Deljavan back after his disappointing finish in the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. His playing certainly deserved a better outcome, but his facial grimaces detracted his efforts in the eyes of the audience, and presumably judges as well. A video camera that projected extreme face close-ups non a large screen over the performer didn’t help. In fact, we may not have noticed his expressions at all.
Deljavan appears to have his facial tic under control in this appearance at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. A guest spot with the Fort Worth Symphony, playing Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto, was astounding. It made our Best of the Year list in 2013. This performance was equally impressive and showed a different aspect—his considerable ability as a collaborative pianist.
The program consisted of two sonatas by Brahms, the second one for the violin and first one for viola. The last work on the program was Dvořák’s piano Quartet in E major, Op. 87. The violinist for the afternoon was Gary Levinson (who is also the Artistic Director); he was joined by violist Michael Klotz and cellist Allan Steele, the new principal cellist in the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
An aside: Rather than two sonatas by Brahms, it would have been nice to hear one of the two by a composer of our time. Paul Hindemith wrote seven nice ones that are similar in form to those of Brahms. There are many other examples of modern composers working in the standard sonata form.
Back to the review: There was plenty of contrast between Levinson and Klotz in the way they played Brahms. Levinson has an innate elegance that he brought to bear that kept the performance modest, in keeping with the music. He showed plenty of excitement later on with the Dvořák, but kept it at bay in the Brahms.
Klotz, on the other hand, took a more muscular approach his Brahms sonata. Brahms, being an organist, requires full sonorities in his big moments and the sound needs to be large rather than loud, even though both would be in the same decibel range. Klotz, sometimes, was on the former rather than the latter. However, he turned in a marvelous performance, his sound full and robust, demonstrating technical mastery. A little Teutonic restraint would have made it close to perfect. After all, the piece was originally for clarinet, which doesn’t have the ability to play an attack with a big down-bow. He is one of the best violists I know.
The Dvořák was also given a terrific performance, full of fire and ice; loud and soft passages were equally impressive. All four performers seemed to be right in sync, although it is unlikely that they have ever played the quartet together before. Of course, it is a standard of the repertoire, so they have surely played it with other partners many times in the past. A few intonation problems from Steele were disappointing, but they were only noticeable because the intonation all afternoon was superb.
The marvel was Deljavan. With three works, all with a different approach by the artists with whom he was collaborating, he modified his style to work with theirs. He knew when to be supportive and when to take the lead. The balance was faultless all afternoon. The piano at the Modern has been known to be overassertive in the past. Even with the top fully opened, Deljavan never covered the other instrumentalists. He brought out phrases that were prominent, sometimes even one note that we needed to hear, and then faded back into the overall texture.