Pianist Tamás Ungár
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Review: PianoTexas 2018: Faculty Chamber Music Concert | PianoTexas International Academy and Festival | PepsiCo Recital Hall

All Hands on Piano

Texas Christian University's PianoTexas Festival featured a terrific chamber music concert with TCU faculty.

published Friday, June 15, 2018

Photo: TCU
Pianist Tamás Ungár
Photo: Courtesy
Violinist Elisabeth Adkins



Fort Worth — Fort Worth is a piano town and the summer PianoTexas International Academy & Festival in Texas Christian University’s PepsiCo Recital Hall is one of the highlights. This year there is a focus on Russian music and pianists. The festivities opened last Saturday with a recital by Vladimir Feltsman. It continues with some amazing performances by big name pianists as well as the students who also attend.

On Tuesday, June 12, something different was presented. Members of the faculty offered some chamber music.

Although the program opened with a piano trio by Tchaikovsky, the second half featured chamber music just for the piano. The first piece was Anton Arensky’s Suite No. 1, Op. 15, for two pianos. That was followed by some music of Sergei Rachmaninoff for piano four hands (two pianists seated at one piano).

The Tchaikovsky A minor Trio, Op. 50 for violin, cello and piano, is an odd piece. First, it is long (45 minutes) but only has two movements.  The first, marked Pezzo elegiac, is a more-or-less standard sonata allegro movement with a gorgeous melody. The second is a longish set of 11 variations on a less-than-distinguished theme with a coda that lets us revisit the beautiful theme from the Pezzo.

The overall feeling is dour as befits a work written “in memory of a great artist.” This refered to the composer’s close friend, Nikolai Rubinstein. It is known to be the composer’s most difficult piano writing, and that incudes the concerti. However, even though they made some cuts, more trims in the variations movement would have been welcome.

The performance featured three superb artists. The violinist was Elisabeth Adkins, who is now on the TCU faculty after retiring from decades as the Associate Concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. under Music Director Mstislav Rostropovich. The cellist was Christopher Adkins, principal cellist in the Dallas Symphony since 1987. He is on the faculty of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. The famously almost-impossible piano part was tossed off with élan by John Owings, the winner of many international competitions who is on the faculty of TCU, appointed in 1990.

At least from where I was sitting, Elisabeth Adkins’ stunningly deep and richly resonant sound dominated the performance: not by dynamics, but by its sheer beauty. In comparison, Adkins’ sound couldn’t really compete, although she played with great beauty. Even Owings’ masterful performance of Tchaikovsky’s over-the-top pianoisms couldn’t compete.

This is not a criticism of the performance, which was excellent, but merely an observation of the power of Adkins’ sound. You probably couldn’t ask for a better performance of Tchaikovsky’s trio, his only effort in the form.

Anton Arensky’s Suite No.1 for two pianos, Op. 15, is a delightful but slightly dated work that was a welcome change after the very serious Tchaikovsky. Both pianists were terrific and delivered a spirited performance. One was Tamás Ungár, who is on the faculty of TCU and also the artistic director of PianoTexas. The other pianist was Harold Martina, another TCU faculty member, who is equally well known as a soloist and collaborative pianist.

The performance was excellent, with good balance between the two pianos and impeccable ensemble. However, the two pianists couldn’t have been more different. Martina was all serious business while Ungár was charming and engaging, with a twinkle in his eye. You could see every phrase in his expressions.  This is not a great masterpiece nor was Arensky a great composer, but it was delightful and fun to hear.

What is a Russian piano concert without some Rachmaninoff? PianoTexas complied with two of Rachmaninoff’s Six Morceaux for piano, 4 hands, Op. 11. They played No. 3, Russian Theme, and No. 4, Valse. They closed with Rachmaninoff’s zippy Italian Polka for piano, 4 hands. Once again, the two opposite personalities of the pair of pianists were on display. It wasn’t quite as obvious here because the two were seated at one piano and the sparkling Ungár was seated on the audience side.

Next up at PianoTexas is a pair of concerts this weekend. On Saturday, Vladimir Ovchinnikov will play an all-Rachmaninoff program with some rarely heard works. On Sunday, Anna Malikova will play some Prokofiev and Scriabin, but the treat will be her performance of the suite from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty as arranged for solo piano by Mikhail Pletnev. Both concerts are at 7:30 in TCU’s PepsiCo Recital Hall.


PianoTexas Festival Concert Schedule

Distinguished Artist Recital Series

  • 7:30pm June 16: Vladimir Ovchinnikov
  • 7:30pm June 17: Anna Malikova
  • 7:30pm June 23: Dmitri Alexeev
  • 7:30pm June 30: Olga Kern

Concerto Concert Series

  • 7:30pm June 24: Young Artists Concdrto Concert
  • 7:30pm June 26: Teachers & Amateurs Concerto Concert
  • 7:30pm July 1: Young Arts Concerto Concert
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All Hands on Piano
Texas Christian University's PianoTexas Festival featured a terrific chamber music concert with TCU faculty.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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