Fort Worth — The Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth attracts high-caliber musicians from all over to play chamber music together. The highlight of Saturday’s concert was a visit from Chicago Symphony Principal Oboe Alex Klein. His difficulties with focal dystonia (as described in this article from last summer) have been well-documented, but had no audible effect on his playing. He is a rockstar of the oboe, with impeccable tone and thoughtful phrasing, and a testament to the notion that a diagnosis of focal dystonia, though career-altering, is not always career-ending. (He was in the news this week for being denied tenure at Chicago Symphony.)
Klein joined his fellow chamber musicians for two pieces. First was the Bach Trio Sonata No. 5 in C Major, BWV 529, for oboe, violin (CMSFW Artistic Director Gary Levinson) and continuo (Dallas Symphony double bassist Nicolas Tsolainos). The Bach worked less well than other pieces on the program—the three musicians did not seem to have a unified stylistic approach, with Levinson in general playing more legato than Klein.
Klein, Levinson, and Tsolainos were joined by University of Texas clarinet professor Jonathan Gunn and Amernet Quartet violist and CMSFW regular Michael Klotz for the Prokofiev Quintet Op. 39. This music began its life as a ballet, Trapèze, for an underfunded touring dance company. Because the company only had five musicians, Prokofiev wrote the piece for the unusual combination of violin, viola, clarinet, oboe, and bass. This quirky ensemble works surprisingly well, though, with the wide variety of timbres providing a sense that the ear always has somewhere new to go.
This is a strange piece in other ways than the instrumentation, with abrupt changes of key and unusual harmonies, as well as an unconventional six-movement structure. It is a musical and technical challenge that takes sure hands to perform it well, and that was abundantly the case on Saturday, with an effective and even at times brilliant performance.
Behzad Ranjbaran is an Iranian-American composer, currently on the faculty at Juilliard, who has gained popularity for combining the current trend of Neo-Romanticism with traditional Iranian influences. Gary Levinson joined with TCU piano faculty John Owings and Fort Worth Symphony Principal Cello Allan Steele for Ranjabaran’s Shiraz. Inspired, according to the composer’s note, by the southern Iranian city of Shiraz and its distinctive elements, including its poetic heritage and natural beauty. The first movement is thus titled “The Weeping Willow.” Ranjbaran writes that he envisioned three poets in discourse under a tree. Saturday’s trio had some occasional pitch issues, but captured this musical idea, passing the melody skillfully from one to another and sometimes becoming rather fierce, as if in heated discussion, ending with a beautiful phrase in the cello, fading to nothing. The second movement, “The Rokni River,” is a rhythmically driving, intense whirl intended to represent “vitality of life.” The trio captured this ferocious effect ably.
An unexpected joy of the program was Darius Milhaud’s Suite for Piano, Violin, and Clarinet, Op. 157b. In four movements, the piece is decidedly tonal and melodic, with a jazz influence in the final movement that is reminiscent of Ravel’s forays into jazz in the Violin Sonata and elsewhere. Levinson, Owings, and, especially, clarinetist Gunn brought panache and character to this wonderful find.