Fort Worth — What do you get when you bring together six outstanding musicians, two each violinists, violists, and cellists, to perform together on a program of Brahms and Tchaikovsky? A lot of really wonderful moments punctuated by a few that were less than stellar.
Each of these six musicians has an impressive CV on his own—violinists Alex Kerr, DSO Concertmaster, and Felix Olschofka, UNT Associate Professor of Violin, are frequent standouts on local stages, as is violist Misha Galaganov, who is Professor of Viola at TCU. The other three musicians, violist Michael Klotz and cellists Edward Arron and Jason Calloway, are visitors to North Texas. Klotz and Calloway are on the faculty of Florida International University in Miami, while Arron is on the faculty at New York University.
The program included the Brahms String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, although the program order was reversed on the printed program and no announcement of the change was made until intermission. The resulting hubbub from the audience suggested that many of the audience members had been puzzled by the change.
It was definitely the right move, however—the more introspective Brahms is more suited to the first half of a program, while the lighter Tchaikovsky was a perfect finish.
All six musicians have impressive technique and luscious tone, making both lyrical passages and flying spiccato thrilling. Michael Klotz and Misha Galaganov both have large, full viola sounds. Galaganov occasionally sounded forced at the beginning of the Brahms, perhaps compensating for the difference in acoustics between an empty and a nearly full hall. But he needn’t have worried. Once the musicians settled in to the space, none had trouble projecting.
The sextet’s musicianship shone through on both pieces—they skillfully captured the two works’ varied moods, from Brahms’s somber third movement Eleigia to Tchaikovsky’s glittering Scherzo. Alex Kerr in particular seemed to find great delight in Tchaikovsky’s spirit of Romantic excess with his swoopy shifts and wide vibrato.
The group created a cohesive musicality, meaning that they seemed to have one idea about each movement, rather than (as can sometimes happen with musicians who do not play together regularly) one or more musicians trying to put forth his own musical ideas at the expense of the whole. Foreground, middle ground, and background were clear—each musician made room for the others to create effective and appropriate balance.
There were occasional ensemble issues, particularly in the Tchaikovsky. He uses the technique of pizzicato (plucked strings) extensively in the Souvenir de Florence. It took the ensemble a couple of beats to lock in the tempo in more than one pizzicato passage.
Still, this was a minor distraction from an excellent pair of performances. The bravura ending of the Tchaikovsky rightly resulted in a near-instant standing ovation from the near-capacity crowd.