Fort Worth — In a season that lacks the music of living composers, the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth chose a different path by programing the entire first half of the March 19 program with just such works. The warm interior of the compact auditorium at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth gave the music an immediacy that enhanced the audience’s appreciation of three dramatically different works.
The program opened with two completely different works by Persian composer Behzad Ranjbaran (born in 1955). His Fountains of Fin was given a marvelous performance by flutist Demarre McGill, violinist and Artistic Director Gary Levinson and cellist Jesús Castro-Balbi.
This piece is a musical picture, or impressions, of some famous fountains in Kashan, Iran.
The work starts with the flute in its low register and you already know that this piece is not by a western composer. For one thing, McGill’s excellently played flute tone-bends sound more natural, less like “effects” than they do in more western classical music. The composer gave Levinson and Castro-Balbi many different roles and they played these diverse assignments with skill: the balance was always as the composer expected.
The musical lines were independent but, on some occasions, they all moved exactly together. Throughout, the flute remained prominent with the other two accompanying, echoing and commenting: although each had moments by themselves. The three instrumentalists easily changed gears for a dance-like center. As in the beginning, McGill’s evocative flute started a reflective final section, accompanied by some quiet long notes in the strings.
Ranjbaran’s Elegy for Violin Cello and Piano is a completely different animal. You would never guess this was by the same composer as the previous work. This is purely western music with an almost Schubertian feel. There are even some Wagnerian turns enhancing the cello line. Castro-Balbi was joined by pianist Gloria Lin.
A relative long piano introduction set the melancholy mood. Castro-Balbi produced a gorgeous sound as he sang out a long arching melody. Both cellist and pianist increased the intensity as the work progressed, but soon returned to the opening’s reflective mood. The piece eventually dies away rather than ends.
It is an interesting dichotomy that Penderecki’s music is more famous than he is himself. This is due to its use in a number of Hollywood horror flicks, such as The Shining and The Exorcist.
Penderecki’s String Trio, however, is not horror-inducing music. This work comes at a period in his compositional life in between his experimental music and his return to neo-romanticism. The language is still dissonant, but his more recent romantic leanings are evident. Violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez joined Levinson and Castro-Balbi to make up the trio.
The three started out with a ferocious attack: short chords that use all four strings on the instruments. They are only punctuation, however, as each player did a superb job with individual and challenging cadenza-like solos. Levinson’s, full of double stops, was particularly arresting.
The three played a series of isolated passages with a rapid skittering three-note pattern before some lyric lines appear in counterpoint and together. The second movement, which started without a break, gave each player some imitative passages and extended solos but the explosive chords from the opening return, Hernandez’s rich viola sound started a loosely organized fugue. The pace accelerates and the intensity only increases to an explosive ending in octaves.
The second half of the program was completely different. Haydn’s Flute Quartet in D Major, Op. 5 No. 5 was a time trip to the more genteel elegance of 18th century. Any chance to hear McGill is welcome, but this program let us experience his abilities in two completely different eras. Leaving his exotic playing in the earlier Persian piece behind, he made a complete change of character and sound to play Haydn’s charming quartet. He was joined by other three string players on the program.
The performance, while excellently played, felt like it needed some more rehearsal. Part of the problem is that his work has four movements, but they are all short. This naturally creates some careful planning to create a single piece, rather than four separate ones. Nevertheless, this was a delightful end to a program with great contrasts. Presenting such a wide range of chamber music, then and now, ably demonstrates the amazing flexibility of the genre.