Fort Worth — It’s a testament to how piano-centric the PianoTexas Festival at Texas Christian University really is when they have a chamber music weekend and the first work on the program is listed as Brahms Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Op. 78—Davide Cabassi.
Cabassi, of course, was the pianist, but although the Adkins Quartet was listed as the showcased chamber group for the weekend, individual string players were not mentioned in the program. Since a string quartet includes two violinists, though, the audience was left to be surprised as to which violinist would perform the aforementioned Brahms sonata.
The answer: TCU Professor of Violin Elisabeth Adkins, former associate concertmaster of the National Symphony, was the capable and expressive violinist on the Brahms violin sonata.
Of the three sonatas Johannes Brahms wrote for violin and piano, the first is the least technically demanding, but is gorgeous and, for Brahms, quite melodic. In this rendition, Cabassi showed himself to be an exemplary collaborative pianist. He managed to evoke the requisite intensity without excessive volume, allowing Adkins her full dynamic range.
That was a gift, because Adkins’s sound is magnificent. Even her pizzicati are resonant and lovely, and her fortissimos are uniformly unforced. Her musical choices are interesting without being mannered; for instance, in the second movement, some of her articulations were more detached than we usually hear, and her tempi were slightly slower than is common. Both of these strategies worked, however, to draw attention to the musical line for a performance that was nuanced and thoughtful.
Also successes were the two Brahms works for larger ensembles—the Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8, and the Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60. The trio included Elisabeth Adkins, violin, Christopher Adkins, cello, and Vadym Kholodenko, piano. The quartet added Clare Adkins Cason, viola.
Kholodenko has a more dominating sound as a collaborative pianist than does Cabassi; still, balance was good throughout, although there were a few moments in which the string players sounded forced or rough, as if they feared not being heard over the piano. Otherwise, though, this was polished, capable playing of some of the most glorious of late Romantic chamber music. Overall, the ensemble provided a rich, delicious sound, and the three sibling string players were, as one might expect, remarkably attuned to each other, but to Kholodenko as well.
PianoTexas presents some of the best pianists in the world in recital each year; it is marvelous to hear them collaborate with equally fine string players, especially so since both Brahms and Schumann wrote lovingly and well for various combinations of strings plus piano.
» Read our preview of PianoTexas, which continues with the following performances.
- 7:30 p.m. June 25: Barry Douglas
- 4pm June 26: Joseph Kalichstein