Dallas — Blue Candlelight Music Director Baya Kakouberi has repeated previous successes by creating an intimate evening of carefully curated chamber music, performed in the elegant Dallas home of Richard and Enika Schulze. As usual, the audience enjoyed pre-concert appetizers and wine while chatting and wandering around the home’s beautiful gardens on what must have been the most perfect evening of the year.
The ensemble bookended the program with piano quartets, beginning with the Quartet in A Minor by the little-known Spanish composer Joaquín Turina, and ending with the much better known Piano Quartet in G Minor by Johannes Brahms. In between, each string player got a turn collaborating with pianist Baya Kakouberi. Continuing the season’s theme highlighting women composers, violist Michael Klotz and pianist Kakouberi performed the first movement of Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano. Would that they had performed the whole sonata—not only does Klotz have a burnished, elegant viola sound and impeccable technique, but also Clarke’s sonata is infrequently played and underappreciated.
Clarke was an English 20th-century violist who wrote predominantly for her own instrument, a gift considering the paucity of repertoire for this instrument. Viola jokes notwithstanding, the viola has never enjoyed the preeminence of the cello or, especially, the violin. Violists are left with a few modernist works by Hindemith, Bartók, and Walton at the core of their repertoire. While Clarke was roughly contemporary with these modernist composers, her style is more reminiscent of that of her countryman Ralph Vaughan-Williams in its charming, lyrical neo-romanticism.
Further emphasizing the contributions of women composers, violinist and Dallas Symphony Orchestra Senior Associate Concertmaster Gary Levinson chose Amy Beach’s Romance for Violin and Piano Op. 23 as his contribution to the theme. Levinson admirably evoked Beach’s lush romanticism. He then performed the more bravura “Spanish Dance” from La Vida Breve by Manuel de Falla. This well-known piece, often presented as an encore, is flashy and technically daunting. In both the Beach and, especially, the de Falla, Levinson occasionally lacked the accuracy and relaxed, almost insouciant playing style listeners have come to expect from him. Still, Levinson projected verve and fire when called for, and soulful expressivity when that was the order of the day.
Jesús Castro-Balbi, Professor of Cello at Texas Christian University, gave listeners one of Schumann’s Op. 73 Fantasiestücke as his solo turn. Written for cello or clarinet or viola and piano, this piece, with the tempo indication “Quick and with fire” and the notation “faster and faster,” taxes the technical abilities of even the most skilled musicians. In Castro-Balbi’s hands, the piece glittered and glowed. His tone is radiant, his bow changes wondrously smooth.
On each of these works, Kakouberi showed herself to be an able collaborator, taking charge where needed and backing off to let each string player shine.
The stars of the evening were the two quartets. Turina’s quartet, in this ensemble’s hands, became an unearthed gem worthy of additional hearings. Brahms’s G Minor Quartet had some pitch and ensemble problems—the strings didn’t always get out of Kakouberi’s way when she was foreground—but the utterly delicious final movement, the Rondo alla Zingarese featured just-right character reminiscent of fiddle players around a Gypsy campfire.
Once again, Blue Candlelight has proven itself an addition to the local scene that is both musically significant and charming.