Fort Worth — Tuesday evening’s concert of the Mimir Chamber Music Festival highlighted the music of Oliver Messiaen, Clara Schumann, Frank Bridge and Antonin Dvořák. Three of these four composers are rarely featured on concert programs so it was delightful to see the first half of the program devoted to them.
The concert began with Messiaen’s Thème et Variations, a piece written for his first wife who was also a violinist. Messiaen’s music is usually quite rhythmically complex and harmonically challenging, but this particular work had a rather tonal romantic charm, very fitting as a gift to one’s love. Jun Iwasaki opened with expressive violin playing while pianist John Novacek provided the steady tempo that highlighted Iwasaki’s expressiveness. As the piece moved into quicker tempo and more complex rhythmic ideas, the duo’s precision helped progress the work at just the right rate so that the last fortissimo variation was given its due weight. The dynamic contrast was ideal for the arc of the piece. Novacek huddled around the keyboard for the last few hushed chords.
The music of Clara Schumann has been overshadowed by that her husband, Robert, until rather recently. The Three Romances for viola and piano highlight her command of song-like melodies. The two outer movements sound very much like melodies that would have pleased. Robert would have delighted in and make for very effective “songs without words.” The middle Allegretto is a more traditional string piece with trills, turns, and pizzicati used to charming effect.
Joan DerHovsepian’s viola performance was magnificent and the pianist, Novacek was, again, much like a singer. Her flowing wavy green blouse complemented the fluid nature of the melodies and emotional range of these three short pieces. Though her playing was pronounced and rather grand, DerHovsepian’s performance remained tender throughout, and stayed back when the pianist’s part needed to be highlighted.
DerHovsepian’s performance was followed by Phantasy Piano Quartet in F-sharp minor, composed by Benjamin Britten’s teacher, Frank Bridge. Bridge’s music, much like Clara Schumann’s, is overshadowed (in this case due to his star pupil), but is highly expressive and inventive in its own right. The Phantasy itself was Bridge’s attempt at re-creating a British music genre that, according to Stephen Seleny’s program notes, paid homage to the string music from Elizabethan and Jacobean England.
DerHovsepian, Iwasaki, and Novacek returned with cellist Brent Taylor and they all gave an impressive performance of this sweeping work. The three strings pronounced the first octave statement in a declamatory manner, leading directly to a pleasant duet between the viola and cello. At times, the players even seemed to leap from their seats in the excited, quicker, syncopated sections. Iwasaki’s feet left the floor quite often when the music reached this level. Taylor’s short cello passage calmed the excitement in the beginning of the third section and lead the other two string players into a final grandiose melodic statement while Novacek’s playing rumbled beneath them. The Phantasy was an easy-to-follow work, very classical in form despite its one-movement structure, and served as the gem of the evening.
The second half of the program was devoted solely to one of Dvořák’s most exciting works, the Quintet in E-flat Major, one of three works he wrote while serving as Director of the National Conservatory of New York in the 1890s. The quintet includes two violas, which Dvořák puts to great use, even featuring them in a duet at the beginning of the third movement.
The newly added violist, Misha Galaganov, blurted out the opening statement, introducing a very excitable first movement. Well, perhaps a little too excitable; it only the first fortissimo section.
This excitable nature continued with an even louder start to the second movement, which increased in tempo to the point the players had trouble playing precisely together: but they seemed to be having a fun time. When DerHovsepian took the lead in the second section of this movement, the piece returned to a more even pace. This same effect happened again at the beginning of the third movement during the viola duet (accompanied by cello).
It seemed that when DerHovsepian or Taylor were in a prominent role, the ensemble played more tightly together. As the newly appointed concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Frank Huang is obviously a very fine performer, but in this case, he carried the work too quickly to multiple peaks, leading the ensemble to play so loudly and so ferociously so often, that the group had little power remaining for the finale.
The Dvořák failed to impress as much as the first half of Mimir Concert No. 4. Hopefully these same works, and their composers, will get more attention after receiving such great interpretations by fine players.
» Read about this year's Mimir Chamber Music Festival here, which also has a schedule with complete repertoire.
» Read a review of Concert 1 here
» Read a review of Concert 2 here
» Concert 3 not reviewed by TheaterJones, but here is Gregory Sullivan Isaacs review in the Star-Telegram
» Mimir has a final concert at 7:30 p.m. July 10 in TCU's PepsiCo Recital Hall.