Fort Worth — Saturday evening the Mimir Chamber Music Festival produced three performances of profound musicianship.
The Trio in G minor, continuous and without movements by a young Jean Sibelius, started without the cellist Brandt Taylor but double stops on the violin and viola’s opening chords promised more to come. Using the acoustics of the PepsiCo Recital Hall on the campus of Texas Christian University’s School of Music for reverberation, the trio’s devastatingly minor tumbling octaves lent a conservative drama appropriate to the composer’s tastes. Sibelius’ modern tendencies lean not to harmonies or textures but to development. Over an organ-like low cello pedal point the shorter strings added idea over idea building up to a climax. Effectively programmed as an opener it was efficient, short and bold like Hemmingway.
Next, married couple Lucille Chung and Alessio Bax shared the piano on Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka for Piano Four Hands. She on the treble right half of the keyboard and he on the bass/left, her strong right pinky leading the melodic way. The fantasy narrative from the ballet tells of three puppets come to life and their struggle over the love of a ballerina between a moor and the sad Petrushka. Also, early in his career Stravinsky always chose to regulate his innovations and set the scene reveling in the simple folk songs of his homeland. The carnival melodies in Tableau 1, “The Shrove-Tide Fair” are broken when a magician plays his flute. On this, Chung’s legato made the Steinway concert grand breathe like the hollow woodwind. The ballet’s dramatic changes and drastic shock would later become de rigueur for modern art in general. In Tableau 2, “Petrushka’s Room,” we hear the famous awkward tri-toned “Petrushka Chord” as he laments his dark, and grotesque solitude. Chung and Bax had the transfer of piano overtone to mute pedal down to a perfectly timed science. What a joy it was to see these two bounce and dance together on side by side piano benches. In Tableau 3, “The Moor’s Room,” we hear his confident swashbuckling. Finally, in Tableau 4, “The Shrove-Tide Fair Towards Evening,” the festival tunes return and Petrushka meets his gruesome, then ghostly, end. Twenty fingers fitting an orchestral reduction inside a nine-foot grand gave the illusion of seamless and dissonant finger clusters. His right wrist crossing under her left palm asked which sleight of hands were whose? And, who were the real magicians: the character? Stravinsky? or this magnificent couple?
These chamber musicians of Mimir and worldwide fame, playing at the height of their powers, would finish the concert with one of the best compositions of arguably the best composer in history: Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 127, by Ludwig van Beethoven. The tone colors of the string quartet blended sweetly and distinctly. Brandt’s milk chocolate cello, Joan DerHovsepian’s rich caramel viola, Laura Frautschi’s cool and creamy second violin, set up first violinist Jun Iwasaki to give proof of life. The Maestoso – Allegro gave way from opening chords to swirling eddies. The Adagio ma non troppo e molto cantabile found a role reversal with the low pedal in the viola and the first violin commenting instead of leading. This masterwork allows a few repetitions before offering a new melody logical enough to make it seem inevitable. The Scherzando vivace had the players prodding each other, as Beethoven did to himself and his audiences, to ask for more. After letting the bouncing low unisons rebound to lilting breezes the Finale found this delicate and exacting quartet on a journey of discovery and joy. Each successful moment inspiring the next and the next.
Let it be known that the super heroine of the evening if not the entire week of concerts has been the spectacular violist Joan DerHovsepian (playing on the majority of the programs). Almost greater than the pleasure of her intonation and phrasing was watching her enjoyment in working with such high-caliber chamber musicians.
Most people lack a good measure of classical music in their lives. What we more crucially lack in our society is what was on naked display Saturday evening, all last week and in each of the Mimir Chamber Music Festival’s 21 seasons. The central skill of chamber musicians: an exquisite sensitivity to one another.
2 p.m. Sunday, July 8
Kimbell Art Museum, Piano Pavilion