Fort Worth — You have to hand it to the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth. Not only do they bring in some of the most distinguished musicians, but artistic director and violinist Gary Levinson makes a real effort to present eclectic programing that spans the ages from the Baroque to the music of our time. Case in point, this past Saturday afternoon’s wide-ranging concert held in the modest but acoustically acceptable recital in Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The guest artists were the internationally renowned Díaz Trio.
The violinist is the Cuban-born virtuoso Andrés Cárdenes, who is equally well known as a conductor. On viola, we have the Chilean-American Roberto Díaz who, after a series of principal chairs in top orchestras, assumed the role of President/Director of the storied Curtis Institute. The cellist is his equally marvelous brother, Andrés Díaz, who won the 1986 Naumburg Prize and now teaches at Southern Methodist University.
The program opened with a surprise that was not on the program but was on an easily dropped insert. It was the Passacaglia from Handel’s Harpsichord Suite No. 7 HWV 432 in an arrangement by the Norwegian composer and violinist Johan Halvorsen. Little of his music remains in the repertoire today, but this arrangement is more frequently totted out.
Cárdenes and Roberto Díaz gave it an energetic performance that was n line with the title of the program “Welcome to my Music Room.” It sounded like they just decided to play it moments before the concert began. While it was not as polished as everything else on the program, it had a charming, improvisatory feel. It was much like you would expect if you were a guest in their music room and they pulled out an old favorite on the spur of the moment.
It is always a treat to hear harpsichord music arranged for lyric instruments like he strings. The original instrument cannot sustain a note and is thus very hard to play legato. Its characteristic plucky sound makes it hard to follow all the independent counterpoint. Not so on the violin and viola. You get a new appreciation for Handel’s technical prowess.
The program then featured Schubert’s String Trio No. 1 in B-flat, D.471. Cellist Andrés Díaz joined his brother and Cárdenes and the Díaz Trio was complete. This Trio is the work of the teenage Schubert and written for the many musical evenings that were a regular happening in the Schubert household. Unfortunately, this movement is all that survived.
They gave this modest work a graceful and intimate performance. The last-minute charm of the Handel gave way to a pristine and stylish performance. Ensemble and intonation as well as a unified musical concept were apparent and would go on to mark the entire performance as extraordinary.
After Schubert’s pastoral meadows, The String Trio of Alfred Schnittke transported us from the clockwork era of the early 1800’s to the chromatic and even chaotic musical thicket of the mid-20th century. It was quite a contrast. Whereas Schubert’s music almost goes where you expect it to, Schnittke’s Trio is much like a mirror shattered on the floor, leaving the music in shards. The piece is organized into independent and wildly different cells and never lead you where you think they will. It is like a road filled with bizarre cul-de-sacs and we get to experience each musical no-outlet. Some are beautifully tonal, but they lose energy and fade away. Others are aggressively dissonant and end in a pile of notes on the floor. A serene quasi-chorale finally explodes in dissonant fireworks.
I have heard this piece a few times live and, on some recordings, and it sounds very different each time. It depends on how the performers play the musical cells and how they connect them…or not. This performance was magnificently conceived; the best case for the piece that I have ever heard. The audience enjoyed this opium dream of a 20th century work and bravo to CMSFW for giving us the chance to hear it.
The program ended is the perfumed crepuscular gardens of Gabriel Fauré’s divine Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 15. The Díaz Trio was joined by the Taiwanese-born pianist Gloria Chen. A bigger contrast to Schinittke is hard to imagine and the foursome delivered an exceptional performance.
We were already familiar with the exceptionality of the string players so there was some anticipation about the level of the pianist. We needn’t have worried. She is one of the best collaborative pianists working today. The piano part in this piece is almost secondary to the string trio, unlike some other examples of the genre that are really piano concerti with a very small orchestra.
Chen was remarkable. She was always at the proper dynamic level, taking the lead when required, even if only for a few notes, and then back to supportive. Never once was she intrusive and the entire performance had a homogenized effect as if the piano quartet was a single instrument.
This was a lovely performance, awash with Frenchness, both in its serious and its lighter sidewalk café garb. The intonation was so right on that Faure’s piquant harmonies carried the listener away to expressionistic lands.