Dallas — The Blue Candlelight Music Series, held at the Preston Hollow home of Richard and Enika Schulze, is always an enjoyable and luxurious evening, with good company, food, and wine in a beautiful environment. Sunday evening, however, the excellent music eclipsed even these perks.
Joining Artistic Director and pianist Baya Kakouberi and Dallas Symphony violinist Gary Levinson were two guests, Blue Candlelight regular Michael Klotz, violist in the Amernet Quartet, and Blue Candlelight first-timer Franklin Cohen, retired Principal Clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra. These guests brought exceptional musicianship and a sense of fun to the evening’s proceedings.
Viola and clarinet are a fabulous pairing, similar in range but different—yet complementary—in timbre, that are underused in chamber music. Each piece on Sunday’s rather lengthy program used either clarinet or viola, and some used both.
Mozart may have been the first to write a trio for clarinet, viola, and piano—indeed, Mozart’s 1786 Kegelstatt, or “lawn bowling,” trio, along with his clarinet concerto and other works, helped popularize the then-new clarinet. Klotz, Cohen, and Kakouberi performed the Mozart trio with grace—this is not Mozart at his most melodic, as Cohen pointed out in his remarks, but the piece amply shows Mozart’s innovative side. Not only the instrumentation, but also the organization, of the work is novel. It begins with an Andante movement (rather than the conventional Allegro), followed by a Minuet and then a Rondo. Sunday’s trio of musicians are all superb collaborators—it’s easy for a clarinet and a piano to overbalance the viola, but that never happened—though in fairness, Klotz has a huge sound for a violist.
The other pieces for this combination of instruments on Sunday’s program were two of Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano. Written 125 years after the Mozart trio, these pieces reflect late Romanticism rather than classicism. Here, Bruch trafficked in considerable unison writing in clarinet and viola, always a landscape full of potential pitfalls. Klotz and Cohen navigated this writing beautifully, making necessary microadjustments. These Bruch pieces are a wonderful discovery; I would almost have preferred cuts to other works on the program to be able to hear all eight of these pieces.
Other music on the program included the first of Mozart’s relatively well-known duos for violin and viola. Written in the style of Michael Hadyn, because the lesser-known Hadyn had accepted a commission which he was too ill to complete, the pieces feature delightful interplay between the two instruments—an interplay that had achieved its apotheosis in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, his concerto for violin and viola written four years earlier. Klotz and Levinson, who are frequent collaborators, shone in this repertoire.
The other three works on the program added novelty to the mix: Gershwin’s well-known Three Preludes for piano here appeared in an arrangement for clarinet and piano; it worked for this jazzy music, and Cohen particularly was clearly in his element, though I prefer the original piano version. Shostakovich’s Romance from his score to the movie Gadfly, in an arrangement for viola and piano, was hauntingly beautiful as performed by Klotz and Kakouberi. Their sense of line is remarkable. (Shostakovich was a prolific film composer, writing scores for at least 25 movies, almost all of them Soviet.) Last up was the klezmer-like Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano by Paul Schoenfield, a delightful romp that Levinson, Cohen, and Kakouberi clearly had great fun playing.
And that’s at the core of this Blue Candlelight concert: lots of fun and wonderful music among friends.