Dallas — Blue Candlelight Music Series, the intimate chamber music series which monthly presents chamber music in an opulent north Dallas residence, brought two outstanding Dallas-based musicians together with an international concert artist for a richly varied concert Sunday evening. Pianist Jon Nakamatsu, gold medalist of the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, joined violinist Gary Levinson, senior principal associate concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and cellist Andrés Dīaz of the music faculty at Southern Methodist University for the main portion of the concert; Polish-born cellist Sebastian Kozub, a student at Southern Methodist who already has several top prizes at international competitions to his name, appeared as an “opening act” bonus.
Cellist Kozub opened with the “Variations of a Theme of Paganini” for cello solo—a delightful showpiece originally conceived by German cellist Hans Bottermund but heavily edited and shaped by renowned 20-century cello virtuoso Janos Starker (who, incidentally, served for a season as principal cellist of the Dallas Symphony in the late 1940s). Based on the most well-known of Paganini’s Caprices for Violin (the same tune famously exploited by Rachmaninoff in his Paganini Rhapsody for piano and orchestra), this compact tour-de-force packs every possible technical challenge for cello into five minutes, all of which Kozub tossed off with aplomb. Kozub followed up with contemporary Italian cello virtuoso Giovanni Solima’s Lamento for solo cello, which features murderous passage-work for the cellist while demanding that the soloist also sing a wordless, folk-like lament, once again carried off with style and technical perfection by Kozub.
The three principal featured artists each took a turn in the spotlight on the main part of the program. Violinist Levinson and cellist Díaz opened with the well-known Passacaglia of Handel, transcribed by Jan Halvorsen for viola and violin and here arranged for cello and violin; Levinson’s assertive violin style here played off well with Díaz’s mellow cello tones. The journey into the byways of chamber music transcriptions and variations continued with American composer John Corigliano’s “Fancy on a Bach Air” for solo cello, a mournful meditation on the theme of Bach’s Goldberg Variations; here Díaz again demonstrated emotional intensity combined with a tone that maintained an arresting richness across the wide range demanded by this work.
Pianist Nakamatsu made his first appearance of the evening with Schubert’s achingly lyrical Impromptu in G-flat, floating Schubert’s hypnotic theme over the rolling accompaniment figure in the left hand, with a perfectly controlled and expressive rubato. This in turn nicely set up Richard Strauss’ Sonata for Violin and Piano, in which obvious influence of earlier romantic composers—such as Schubert and Mendelssohn, companions on the evening’s program—wove in and around abundant Straussian elements. Pianist Nakamatsu and violinist Levinson partnered handsomely here through the storms of the first movement, the limpid lyricism of the Chopinesque middle movement, and, at last, in the triumphant conversation that emerges after the somber piano introduction of the Finale.
Nakamatsu, Díaz, and Levinson were at last together for Mendelssohn’s Trio in C minor, the second and less-frequently performed of that composer’s two works in the genre. These performers made a compelling case for this “other” Trio by Mendelssohn, who was, at least as presented here, at the top of his game, beginning with the roiling, longing romanticism of the first movement. These musicians continued their unfailing focus through the gentle lyricism reminiscent of the composer’s “Songs without Words” in the second movement, as well as the rapid perpetual motion of the third movement, in which violinist Levinson played off a feather light Presto touch against an equally agile reading of the piano part from Nakamatsu. The final movement provided a breathtaking, hard won journey toward the straightforward but radiant statement by the piano of the old German chorale melody known to American Protestant church-goers as “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” for the high point of the evening. For encore, the trio crowned the concert with the B-flat-major serenity of the “Molto tranquillo” second movement of Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 1.