Fort Worth — In its performance Saturday afternoon hosted by the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, the Montrose Quartet was a passionate technical marvel, although their musical choices were sometimes a bit old-fashioned. The latter is not especially surprising: violinist Martin Beaver and cellist Clive Greensmith were members of the Tokyo String Quartet when it disbanded in 2013 as the result of the retirement of the two other members. The Tokyo was usually a bastion of musical conservatism, as evidenced by many recordings of the highest technical caliber that do not attempt to adhere to contemporary notions of “authentic performance practice.” The two string players have joined frequent Dallas visitor, pianist Jon Kimura Parker, in the Montrose Trio.
Conservative they might be, but what they do, they do very well.
In the group’s rendition of Hadyn’s Piano Trio in E-flat Major, the difference between the Montrose’s choices and a trendier sound was most notable. Listeners have come to expect a “drier” sound for Classical-era music, but the Montrose selects a warmer range of tonal colors, a bit more and wider vibrato in the strings, and a cushier, more padded sound than we often hear these days. However, their Haydn is still clearly distinct from the lush lyricism of the Turina Piano Trio No. 2 in B Minor and, especially, the Tchaikovsky Trio in A Minor.
Joaquín Turina, a Spanish composer of the first half of the 20th century, wrote his second Piano Trio nearly 20 years after Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring premiered, and yet it sounds as if it predates it by decades. Turina may have been old school, but his trio is gorgeous, with a distinctly Spanish sensibility, and the Montrose’s interpretation left me wanting more. Greensmith’s sound is lush and warm, with a wide variety of tonal colors. Even muted, in the second movement of the Turina, both Beaver and Greensmith had ample projection in the Modern’s small auditorium, while Parker never overpowered them. Though Beaver is not afraid of really digging in to the string, which was a sensible choice in the third movement of the Turina, any roughness of sound seems to be amplified at the Modern, so the net effect was a bit excessive.
The “big piece” on Saturday’s program was Tchaikovsky’s Op. 50 Trio in A Minor, written in theme and variations form as an elegy for his friend Nikolai Rubenstein. It is 45 minutes long, and is technically and musically demanding for all three musicians, but perhaps especially the pianist. The Montrose Trio’s Hadyn may have been a bit much, but their Tchaikovsky was breathtaking. Each musician’s level of collaborative skill, musicality, and technique was just what was called for. Everything about this piece is on a grand scale, and the trio’s musical choices consistently reflected that. The audience seemed to agree—this piece asks a lot of listeners as well as performers, but the audience sat spellbound after the final notes, holding their applause for what seemed like many seconds.
That is about the highest praise musicians can receive these days. In a world where the standing ovation has become increasingly routine, it’s perhaps those moments of silence that are the greater honor.