Dallas — On Sunday afternoon of July 7, the Fine Arts Chamber Players opened its summer concert series, entitled the Basically Beethoven Festival, with a program of musical fireworks. All three pieces on the program were technical summits that only the most daring musicians dare to climb. It was quite mind blowing to hear such transcendental difficulties played with a combination of technical mastery and keen musical insight.
The program featured a trio, assembled by festival director and pianist Alex McDonald, presented an unusual trio instrumentation — violin, piano and clarinet (rather than the more usual viola).
The substitution of the clarinet for the viola or cello is a recent development in the genre. The best-known example is Béla Bartók's Contrasts, written for Benny Goodman. Bartók's piece also set the bar high as far as virtuosity is concerned. Following the legitimacy bestowed on the instrumentation by that seminal work, the dam opened, and most prominent composers thereafter produced a work for the combination.
Currently, there are about two dozen professional ensembles successfully touring with such instrumentation. The Verdehr Trio is the most prominent of the bunch. They helped to the trio combination by commissioning hundreds of new works from big name composers.
Sunday’s grouping was so successful that maybe the three will decide to team up and join the fray. They would make a formidable addition to the list of such groups. Given of the evenness of the three musician’s abilities, perhaps a name like The Triune Trio would be appropriate.
As is the tradition with FACP concerts, it opened with a Rising Star Recitalist, this time clarinetist Noah Yi. He gave a most admirabe performance of Brahms’ Clarinet Sonata No. 2. Yi brought some original musical concepts to his performance, capturing the heft of Brahms music that he flavored with the composer’s superb gift for lyricism flavored with Teutonic grandeur.
Festival director and pianist Alex McDonald supported and enhanced Yi’s concept of the piece with his subtle supportive presence.
The main event featured a trio of evenly matched musicians, all with remarkable abilities. They were violinist Grace Kang Wollett, clarinetist Danny Goldman, and pianist Mikhail Berestnev. The programmed pieces require technical wizardry combined correct musical instincts and the three artists certainly met these demands in a spectacular manner.
Much to their credit, the program featured works by living composers except for Charles Ives, who’s music was so far ahead of the pack that it is nearly impossible categorize him in a specific time slot.
They opened with Paul Schoenfield’s quirky Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, which was written in 1990 at the request of super star clarinetist David Shifrin. The composer’s lofty goal was to create some “…entertaining music that could be played at Chassidic gatherings as well as in the concert hall.” Thus, he based the trio on East European Chassidic melodies and performance style as popularized by Klezmer bands. It is based on a combination of regional folk songs flavored with jazz and served with a twist of gypsy. Even if you were not familiar with the specific tunes he borrowed for the occasion, their harmonic modes and rhythms are unmistakable.
The first movement, “Freylakh,” an exuberant dance, received an almost frantic performance. Klezmer music is famous for clarinet sides as well as glissandi (think the opening of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue), and Goldman made the most of every opportunity to show off his considerable abilities with those particular licks. In the second movement, the players took the Klezmer influence to bizarre heights. They switched gears to give the slow movement a more thoughtful feel but let loose again in the finale, a Kozatzke (Cossack Dance). The program continued with one such novel and intriguing piece after another.
Charles Ives’ Largo was next up. This was followed by Roland Elbert’s Piano Trio and Kimberly Osberg’s Interplay, ending with Peter Schickele’s Serenade for Three. All of the descriptions that I previously used in this review could be used to describe the outstanding performances the musicians lavished on all of these compositions.
One interesting observation: The style of each of the selections on the program is quite different. Yet they were combined into a unified concert that celebrated their differences by showing us their similarities.
The ovation from the audience at the end of the concert should encourage the musicians to present another concert, exploring the wealth masterworks written for the same grouping of instrumentalists.
» The Basically Beethoven Festival continues every Sunday in July, at Moody Performance Hall, with the Rising Star Recital at 2:30 p.m. and the concert at 3 p.m.
On July 14, the Rising Star will be the grand prize winner of the SMU Institute for Young Pianists concerto competition. The Feature Performance continues the afternoon of piano music, with Evan Mitchell and Jonathan Tsay performing “piano four hands” (which is two pianists sharing one instrument). July 21 will begin with Rising Star Ishan Loomba, a 2019 Junior Cliburn competitor. The Feature Performance is a string quartet with Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra connections. The Festival will conclude on July 28 with a Rising Star duo: Anais Feller, violin, and Ella Tran, piano. The Feature Performance boasts a flute quartet led by Margaret Fischer, flute.