Dallas — In general, an established string quartet or other chamber ensemble will win out over an ad hoc group every time. There’s nothing like the familiarity of playing together day after day to achieve precise ensemble and clarity of vision. One issue, of course, is that chamber pieces composed for ensembles any less conventional than a string quartet often do not have musicians pre-assembled to perform them.
Thus, on Friday evening, a group of musicians came together from all over the country to perform chamber music together—trios and quintets, in this case. Chamber Music International has a stable of musicians it brings in nearly every year, supplementing with a few new faces and local players. For the most part, this strategy works well.
First up on Friday’s program was the Serenade in C Major, Op. 10, for Violin, Viola, and Cello, by Hungarian composer Ernst von Dohnányi (the grandfather of conductor Christoph von Dohnáyni). By the time Dohnányi composed this serenade in 1902, its romanticism was already out of style, which is perhaps the reason that his music is not more frequently performed. The viola part receives unusual emphasis—the second movement is essentially an extended, lyrical viola solo. With an excellent violist such as this weekend’s Paul Coletti, then, the trio is especially worthy of a listen. Coletti was joined by Paul Rosenthal on violin and Clancy Newman on cello. The three had effective balance and created energy, propulsion, and excitement.
That less frequently heard piece was followed by two titans of the chamber music repertoire. Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 1 in B Major, Op. 8, was written when Brahms was only 20 years old, and later extensively revised. Cellist Newman, Eastman School of Music violin professor Ayano Ninomiya and fêted pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine collaborated to produce a performance that had minor technical flaws—a few dropped notes here, a pitch issue there—that were far overshadowed by sheer musicality. The third movement Adagio, in particular, had some moments of sublime beauty, with lovingly shaped phrases, while the fourth movement Finale offered wonderfully intense, passionate playing with true technical excellence. Each of these musicians is truly at the top of his or her craft, and they all excel at Brahms, not an easy feat. This was the highlight of the evening, beyond a doubt.
Violist Paul Coletti and violinist Paul Rosenthal joined Moutouzkine, Ninomiya, and Newman onstage for Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor. This is not the thorny writing that characterizes some of Shostakovich’s quartets, but is instead accessible and melodic.
Although the performance was, in the aggregate, an enjoyable one, Rosenthal had some difficulties in the highest register, raising the question of why he was playing the first violin part rather than Ninomiya. He is a fine musician in his mid-70s, who plays with CMI regularly. It seems that at this point in his career he is more successful in lyrical passages where he can demonstrate his experience and thoughtfulness, as well as his outstanding collaborative abilities, than he is in hugely technically demanding material, while Ninomiya is a violinist in her prime. Still, balance and ensemble were consistently good, with some most excellent playing by Moutouzkine, in particular.