Dallas — The Dallas-based Chamber Music International assembles a group of musicians, some regulars and some guests, to present a series of concerts. There is some risk in a quick assemblage of musicians for chamber music to present a concert with only minimal rehearsals. However, the opening concert of the 2017-18 season only showed minor harm, although a few more rehearsals would help any concert, no matter how well prepared.
The first concert was presented twice, first at St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church in Richardson and the other at Moody Performance Hall, formerly known as the Dallas City Performance Hall. (The naming rights of this relatively new performance space were awarded to the Moody Foundation, a Galveston-based supporter of the performance arts, as well as charities for children and education.)
Heard on Saturday in Dallas, the program was interesting rather than innovative: A string trio by Beethoven (Op. 9, No. 1), Chopin’s Cello Sonata (Op. 65), and Dvořák’s second piano quartet (Op. 87).
Over a century separates the earliest work, Beethoven’s trio (1787), from the latest, Dvořák’s quartet (1898). But, it was a century full of advancement as the romantic era bloomed and the modern era was knocking on the door. For example: Mozart died in 1791 and by the time Dvořák wrote this quartet, Stravinsky was 16 years old and Irving Berlin was 10. Chopin’s sonata was written in 1847.
The star of the evening was the Cuban-born violinist Andrés Cárdenes. Ever since taking Second Prize in the 1982 Tchaikovsky International Violin Competition in Moscow, he is recognized as one of the true masters of the instrument. Combined with his impeccable musicianship, gorgeous sound and clean technique, there is little wonder why his reputation has reached such rarified heights. The printed program calls him a phenomenon, and so he is.
The other artists on the program were also top level. Violist Paul Coletti won the Naumberg International Competition in New York. Cellist Norman Fischer is the Distinguished Chamber Music Artist and professor of cello at Rice University. Pianist Jeanne Kierman is one of the leading interpreters of contemporary American piano music and appears regularly at prestigious festivals such as Tanglewood.
The Beethoven trio that opened the program, despite being an early work, shows many of the hallmarks of the symphonist to come, especially in the first movement. The three instrumentalists brought this out as well as imbuing the Adagio with the requisite melancholy atmosphere. The final movement, marked Presto, is a virtuosic showpiece and the three took full advantage of it. This was a fine performance overall, but another rehearsal would have helped make it sparkle.
You would be hard-pressed to guess the composer of Chopin’s cello sonata upon first hearing. It is much more Germanic in nature because, in strictly adopting the very German sonata form, Chopin was captured by its rigors. The composer stuck closely to the formal dictates, but struggled to tame his freer flowing compositional style. He develops his meager musical materials even as they are presented by compositional techniques such as inversion and economy.
For example, much of the melodic material is derived from the opening cello music and its characteristic occultation of a half step. This motif remains important throughout. In his more typical works, Chopin’s materials are much more expansive than a single interval. Soaring melodies are more the rule in his oeuvre than the intervallic development found in Beethoven.
But, like Beethoven, this interval is important throughout. After its presentation in the first movement, it opens the glorious second movement, the folk influenced scherzo and the final flashing tarantella.
Kierman and Fischer tackled the sonata with determination and there were many beautiful and thrilling moments. Chopin takes pains to distribute the musical chores evenly between then piano and the cello and the two players took this into account by the careful application of dynamics. However, the overall effect was that, like the Beethoven earlier on the program, it needed a few more rehearsals. While the performance never fell apart, there were moments where the two were not precisely together or headed in the same architectural direction.
Dvořák’s quartet, which closed the program, was written 14 years after his only other work in the form. It displays the composer at the height of his abilities. It is magnificently and intricately constructed and the four instrumentalists achieved the happy balance between bringing out the composer’s technical brilliance and letting the formal aspects remain secondary to the music itself. This was the best performance of the evening.
All four players relaxed and decided to enjoy themselves, exchanging smiles. The last movement, taken at maximum speed, was a jolly affair and the players let their bodies feel the complex rhythms of the main theme. The audience responded enthusiastically.