Dallas — On Monday night, The Dallas Chamber Music Society presented the welcome return of the Paris-based Modigliani Quartet at Southern Methodist University's Caruth Auditorium. The last time they were here, they presented a terrific concert. This time, they were even better, performing Haydn’s Quartet in D Minor, Op. 76, No. 2, “Quinten”; and Ravel’s Quartet in F Major. For the second half of the program, they were joined by pianist Fabio Bidini on Dvořák’s beloved Piano Quintet in A major, Op. 81.
In a way, it was the composers that stood out. These performances were so clean and thoughtfully played that the listener became aware of the genius of Haydn and Dvořák, and especially Ravel.
Ravel’s quartet is almost like a living organism, because the four voices are so intertwined. Ravel was the consummate orchestrator and he treated the four instruments as a self-contained mini-orchestra. It is so perfect that it would seem impossible to be arranged for any other combination.
These thoughts were going through my mind as I heard the performance and I realized how infrequently I can get my attention out of the notes and performance peccadillos and actually hear, even see, the music.
The artists of the Modigliani have a distinguished collection of rare instruments: Amaury Coeytaux plays a 1773 violin by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini; Loïc Rio plays a 1780 violin by Guadagnini; P. Laurent Marfaing plays a 1660 viola by Luigi Mariani; and François Kieffer plays a 1706 cello by Matteo Goffriller.
The program opened with the Haydn, titled “Quinten.” The name means fifth and the work opens with a rocking back-and-forth on that very interval. This performance was so clean that the listener could follow Haydn’s virtuoso compositional technique as be based the entire first movement on this single interval theme.
Haydn filled his work witty humor, something Beethoven learned from him, and it is so often played too seriously. Not this time. Their enjoyment was contagious and many in the audience gained a new appreciation for the musical jokes of Papa Haydn. (It is reported that Haydn would laugh out long at those inserted jokes when he heard performances of his works.)
As previously mentioned, the Ravel was simply marvelous and, as such, hard to describe. You had to be there.
The program closed with one of the most popular chamber music works, Dvořák’s Piano Quintet, Op. 81. The opening theme is one f the most beautiful in the repertoire and cellist Kieffer made the most of it. He played it sauced in romanticism yet maintained its simplistic style. This is one piece in which it is welcome to repeat the exposition, as this group did.
The work is infused with Czech songs and dances and the ensemble caught that mood precisely. Pianist Fabio Bidini fit right into the ensemble. He would rise to prominence when required and then retreat back to the texture. He was never too loud.
If the Modigliani Quartet returns to DFW, mark your calendar. You will be glad you did.