Pianist Alex McDonald

Review: A Grand Evening | Hall Ensemble | Botanical Research Institute of Texas

The Hall is Alive

Fort Worth's Hall Ensemble closes its season with an interesting concert highlighting little known composer Hermann Goetz.

published Monday, March 14, 2016

Photo: Alex McDonald
Pianist Alex McDonald


Fort WorthThe Hall Ensemble often has to improvise when it comes to repertoire for their instrumentation: string trio and bassoon. They do this in the most creative way. The concert on March 8, in the atrium of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) in Fort Worth, found bassoonist Kevin Hall playing a part originally written for a contrabass (up an octave).

The piece was the Piano Quintet in C minor, by a virtually unknown German composer, Hermann Goetz (1840-1876). It was written for the same instrumentation as Schubert’s Trout Quintet: violin, viola, cello, bass (now bassoon) and piano. Maybe this is the only other piece written for this oddball instrumentation?

Guest pianist Alex McDonald was marvelous all evening, but his connection to the Goetz was noticeable. He said that this particular work had a great influence on him at the start of his studies.

Goetz was also a noted pianist, and was a student of Hans von Bülow. Few composers cannot live on that effort alone, so he earned his living as a church organist in a suburb of Zurich. He was a frequent colleague of Brahms, however the reason for the oblivion of Goetz’s music is due to his early demise from tuberculosis, at 36.

Most biographies state that his music showed the influence of Brahms but is more restrained. That is certainly not the case in this quintet.  Its romantic writing brings later composers to mind. Part of this exuberance might be that the composer knew that this quintet would be his musical last will and testament and he must have felt free to let his imagination run free. Perhaps the quintet is enough to reawaken interest in his two piano concerti, two operas that were relatively popular the time, a couple of symphonies and some other incidental pieces.

The program opened with a performance of Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in G for violin and piano, Op. 78. This is the composer’s most popular work in the genre and frequently performed by violinists of all stripes in recitals. Violinist Jennifer Chang produced a beautiful and even tone and demonstrated a sure technique. Her performance lacked contrast but was always consistent with Brahms’ intentions.

She was occasionally slightly under pitch but this must have been due to the acoustics of the venue, designed to be a lobby. She was right on pitch for the other pieces on the program.

Mozart’s much loved Piano Quartet in E-flat ended the first half and was given an energetic performance by McDonald and Chang, along with violist Aleksandra Holowka and cellist Karen Hall. Of special note was the playing of Karen Hall, who was at her best all evening.

Pianist Alex McDonald impressed, as usual. He is a remarkable soloist, but demonstrated his ability as a collaborative artist. He always knew what was important and what was just part of the texture. Sometimes, he only brought out a short phrase and other times whole passages, but faded back into the musical mix as soon as the excerpt ended. More importantly, he never dominated the other players and was always supportive.

Hall Ensemble concerts are always interesting and musically astute—and you can expect the unexpected every time. Thanks For Reading

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The Hall is Alive
Fort Worth's Hall Ensemble closes its season with an interesting concert highlighting little known composer Hermann Goetz.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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