Fort Worth — At first, I thought that whoever titled Saturday afternoon’s concert by the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth must have flunked Music Appreciation 101. The booklet proclaimed “The Many Faces of Romanticism,” but two-thirds of the concert repertoire belonged to Mozart and Hindemith, two composers who are never placed in the category of “romantic.”
Indisputable romanticism did indeed open the proceedings, with four pieces from German late romantic composer Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano—a decidedly unique combination of instruments but also an ideal vehicle for the combination of pianist Jihye Chang, violist Richard Young, and clarinetist Franklin Cohen. That Cohen, principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra, is an artist of particularly remarkable gifts was apparent on his first entry with a soaring melody in the Brahmsian Nocturne in B-flat. Violist Young and pianist Chang proved his equals here and in the remainder of this set.
Audiences know Bruch is primarily as the composer of a still oft-performed Violin Concerto in G minor, a “Scottish Fantasy” for violin and orchestra, and a Kol Nidre for cello and orchestra; the third piece in the set, an Andante based on the Romanian folk genre of doina, proved that he was capable of other memorable accomplishments as well, with an opening recitative for viola that transforms into a remarkable dialogue of viola and clarinet. Clarinetist Cohen’s amazing artistry was further demonstrated here and in many other moments, as, for instance, in the ghostly sustained melody of the Andante, the final work performed from this set.
Violist Young returned to the stage as a violinist for the second work on the program, joining pianist Chang, clarinetist Young, and cellist Bion Tsang for Hindemith’s Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano from 1938. It was here that the perceptive listener could begin to understand the placement of the “romantic” umbrella over the program as a whole. Composers, after all, didn’t suddenly decide to quit writing romantic music and start writing “modern” music one day in 1908 or thereabouts; the most striking characteristics of romanticism, including emotional intensity, lyricism, and structural experimentation, continued even in the music of an unmistakably modern composer such as Hindemith.
And, after some decades of relative neglect, audiences and musicians are reawakening to the power and value of Hindemith’s music; this particular Quartet (the first work of Hindemith performed in CMSFW’s three decades), presented by this superb ensemble of performers, displayed the constant energy, the rich sonorities, the sublime craftsmanship, and the sheer emotional power of a composer who lived his life in midst of the maelstrom of the early twentieth century. For this listener, the most memorable moment came near the end when pianist Chang, who had beautifully collaborated throughout the afternoon, rattled the rafters in a thrilling motoric passage.
With Hindemith’s association with romanticism clearly established, the agenda turned to another decidedly non-romantic composer after intermission. Mozart’s Quintet for clarinet and strings, here performed with violinists Gary Levinson (the Society’s artistic director and the senior principal associate concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony) and Lydia Umlauf (a member of the second violin section of the DSO) joining violist Young, cellist Tsang, and clarinetist Cohen. Along with providing yet another showcase for Cohen and his notable technical command and musicianship, the work displayed the romantic angle of Mozart via the combination of lyricism and emotion on display throughout this relatively late work in the composer’s career. The gently falling opening motif, subtly echoed in the theme of the finale, underlined the porgram’s call to recognize the element of romanticism in music outside of the official “romantic” period.
A crowd of 250, the largest in the society’s history, turned out for the event. With the foundation of Fort Worth’s once-proud classical music community currently under threat, largely because of the unwillingness of the larger Fort Worth community to adequately fund the salaries of orchestra musicians, it was indeed heartening to witness a concert of this level in the heart of Fort Worth.