Dallas — The New Orford String Quartet, violinist Cho-Liang Lin, and pianist Orion Weiss presented an electrifying concert in Dallas City Performance Hall on Sunday. The programming, by Chamber Music International, was brilliant.
First up were Lin and Weiss, playing Ravel’s utterly delightful Sonata No. 2 for violin and piano. Although Weiss’s big sound consistently overbalanced Lin’s more moderate one, both musicians demonstrated impressive technique, and Lin in particular showed his humor and musicianship in the second movement. Ravel gave it the tempo marking “Blues: Moderato,” and for the violinist especially, it is a playground of glissandi and jazz-inflected rhythms.
Filling out the first half of the program was Debussy’s String Quartet in G Minor, performed by the New Orford Quartet. This group of freshly scrubbed, handsome Canadian men—violinist Jonathan Crow bears a striking resemblance to a young Prince William—brought absolutely top-flight musicianship, near-flawless ensemble, and a clarity and luminescence of tone that is far beyond the ordinary. Violist Eric Nowlin, in particular, has a tone that is the sonic equivalent of warm butter—rich, delicious, and addictive. But the group is a quartet, and any experienced listener knows that the finest quartets are greater than the sum of their parts. The four musicians were consistently attuned to each other, as if they were one musician playing four parts. Debussy wrote that he wanted the final section of the last movement to be played avec passion. The New Orford Quartet delivered that passion and intensity throughout.
Chausson’s Concerto for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet is a rarely heard piece—indeed, I had never heard it live. It is constructed with two solo voices—one violin and the piano—who are accompanied by a string quartet rather than a full orchestra. It’s quite a brilliant compositional gambit, and in theory would be easier to program than a concerto requiring many more personnel. However, that has not been the case. Philip Lewis, in his delightful opening remarks, said that to his knowledge the piece had not been performed in Dallas in the past quarter-century. In any case, it’s hard to imagine a more impassioned, intense performance anywhere at any time than that Lin, Weiss, and the New Orford Quartet delivered. Although Lin was still overbalanced in spots, especially now that he was contending with five other voices rather than just one, the overall effect was spellbinding. Technically, the performance was exemplary, and musically it was delightful.
If Sunday’s concert was representative of Chamber Music International’s upcoming season, then we have a lot to look forward to from this group in the months to come.