Fort Worth — The closing moments of The Cliburn’s Beethoven at 250 festival brought a unique and unexpectedly radiant moment on the afternoon of March 1 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
The Verona Quartet, a young ensemble (named to honor Shakespeare by evoking one of the Bard’s favorite settings), already renowned for its broad-ranging repertoire, performed musicologist-composer-pianist David Plylar’s transcription of the final movement of Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata.
That’s, of course, one of the monuments of the piano literature, which begs the question of why and how. Why, that is, transfer a piece which is perfectly fine on the piano to another medium, and, how, when a single keyboard player can depress up to ten notes in any given instant, while a string quartet (albeit with the option of double stops) generally plays only four notes at one time.
“How?” is answered in that, for this section of that monumental sonata, Beethoven turned to fugal technique, producing a fugue in three parts — in other words (except for the final grand chords), with hardly ever more than three notes at any time. There are, however, plenty of doublings, little added flourishes, and busy intersection of lines to provide plenty of work for all four members of a string quartet.
“Why?” is a bit trickier to justify, except to point out that a performance by an excellent ensemble such as the Verona Quartet brings sonorities and the afore-mentioned quality of luminescence unique to a string quartet. The Verona Quartet proved ideal for the project, from the rush of that rapid-fire opening line, to the close-packed succeeding passages, all performed with a rich tone quality and relentless passion. In many ways, these four musicians quadrupled the power and emotion a single performer can bring to the work.
The concert opened with a performance in its original version for solo piano of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, performed by 2017 Cliburn Competition silver medalist Kenny Broberg. At 26, Minnesota-born Broberg continues to prove himself one of the most intelligent and intense artists on the concert stage today; certainly, he brought new insight to a very familiar work, with a notably assertive contrast of volume levels in the first movement, an arresting aura of mystery in the second, and meticulously shaped phrasing and gorgeously fleet-fingered scale passages in the finale.
Pianist Sean Chen, who took third place in the 2013 Cliburn, joined Dallas-born, rising star violinist Chloé Trevor for another of Beethoven’s most famous works, the “Kreutzer” Sonata for Piano and Violin. this performance highlighted Trevor’s full, expressive tone and the rich array of contrasts Chen brought, particularly in warm by sparkling arpeggio passages in the first movement. The calmly momentous main theme of the Andante second movement introduced the often brilliant, occasionally introspective variations of that movement, leading to the steeplechase of the Finale.
After intermission and before the final quartet performance, Italian pianist Filippo Gorini collaborated with violinist Dorothy Ro and cellist Jonathan Dormand, members of the Verona Quartet, for one of Beethoven’s earliest works, the Trio in C minor from Opus 1. The piano stars in this often-dark work, and Gorini brought a fluid touch and an arrestingly whispered pianissimo at appropriate moments in the opening movement. After a brighter second movement, the darkness reemerges in the Menuetto — albeit relieved by sparkling passage-work — leading to the sometimes stormy final movement.