Dallas — It is a rare occurrence to hear a recital featuring a superb violist. Those who attended the Blue Candlelight Music Series concert on Jan. 18 experienced just that. Violist Michal Klotz didn’t disappoint.
Those who have heard him in chamber music, at Fort Worth Chamber Music Society concerts for instance, already know that he has a distinctive sound that has as much in common with a cello as it does with a violin. Add to that some exceptional musicianship and spot-on intonation, and anticipation was high.
The program started out with a real oddity with a more normal sounding title, the Piano Trio in F sharp minor, Op. 188, by Robert Fuchs. This is not written for the usual piano trio instrumentation: violin, piano and cello. Here, the cello was replaced with a viola. Klotz was joined by violinist Gary Levinson and collaborative pianist and BCMS Artistic Director Baya Kakouberi. Fuch’s music is slightly reminiscent of Brahms and as such it came off as suitable for the viola as it is for the cello.
Once the listener became used to the more treble sound than what a cello would offer, the advantage of using the viola was evident. It may be closer to the violin in range but still adds some needed lower sonorities along the way. This was made especially noticeable because Klotz’s deeper-sounding instrument was always distinct from the violin. A more “violinish” viola probably wouldn’t offer the same distinctive sonority.
Speaking of suitable for the viola, Klotz followed this with one of the few sonatas written specifically for the instrument. This was the Sonata for Viola and Piano in F minor, No. 4, Op. 11, by the composer Paul Hindemith, who was a violist himself. Hindemith was a fan of writing what he called “useful music,” which entailed writing literature for instruments that lacked such pieces. Once it started it was immediately apparent that the composer approached this sonata for viola with a deep love for the instrument combined with a desire to put it though its paces. The piano part, impressively played by Kakouberi, is every bit as challenging as the viola’s assignment.
All pianists approach this sonata with some trepidation. This is not only because of its technical challenges, which are considerable, but because of the different sensitivity required to collaborate with the more soft spoken, but equally assertive, viola as opposed to the violin or other brighter instruments.
The pairing worked beautifully. The two instrumentalists rose and fell within Hindemith’s wide dynamic expressions with the balance always in mind. In general, Hindemith is out of favor in our era but is overdue for a major revival, as the audience discovered, judging by the enthusiasm reception. Of course, the pair made a superlative case for this particular sonata but, if intermission chatter was to be believed, they also nurtured some interest in other of Hindemith’s dormant oeuvre.
After intermission, violinist Levinson joined Kakouberi for a performance of Brahm’s Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 108. This is one of the great masterworks in all of music literature — as are Brahms’ other violin sonatas. Hearing one of them on a program is always a reason to buy a ticket. Levinson and Kakouberi are a formidable pairing, not only because they happen to be married, but because they seem to have a musical meeting of the minds. For anyone familiar with their exceptional recording of Beethoven’s violin sonatas, this performance probably wouldn’t have been surprising. Whether knowing the recordings, it was apparent that something, extra from the music itself, was happening. A sonata is supposed to be an equal pairing of a pianist and a solo instrument, but it is obvious when it works as well as it did with the Brahms.
The program ended with a work by Max Bruch, who is mostly remembered these days for his Violin Concerto. Not much of his music is played anymore, but his Eight Pieces for Violin, Viola and Piano, Op. 83, makes a good case for more of his music to be programmed in the future. The three artists only played three of the eight movements, and many in the audience wished to hear a few more.
Almost all of the Blue Candlelight concerts are exceptional but presenting violist Michael Klotz raised this one to an even higher level. Can’t wait for his return.