Fort Worth — The Hall Ensemble is taking part in what seems to be a trend in chamber music performance: hosting intimate concerts in lovely private homes. Of course, this intimacy is exactly what many composers, at least pre-20th-century composers, expected when they wrote works for smaller ensembles. Performing in beautiful homes such as the Fort Worth home of Jarrell and Berlene Milburn, as the Hall Ensemble did on Tuesday evening, thus represents a return to tradition. It seems like a nice change, even a revelation, however, for modern concertgoers accustomed to hearing chamber music in halls seating hundreds or more.
Everything about these concerts is luxurious, from the gorgeous homes in which they take place to the valet parking to the beautiful programs printed on iridescent cardstock. Tuesday’s concert featured refreshments and a chance to meet the musicians beforehand. Forty or so audience members then convened in a large living area to hear the performance. Although performing in unfamiliar spaces which are not designed, acoustically, as concert halls is a definite challenge, the Hall Ensemble was more than up to the task. Cellist Karen Hall remarked that violinist Qiong Hulsey was a last-minute replacement for the injured Molly Baer, but Hulsey integrated smoothly into the ensemble.
The opener for the program was George Gershwin’s Three Preludes, in an arrangement for string trio and bassoon by ensemble member Kevin Hall. The lively arrangement worked well for both the music and the ensemble, and provided a brisk, fun start to the evening. The second piece, The Heavens Awaken, by Howard J. Buss, scored for bassoon and string quartet, was certainly the most intellectually demanding piece on the program. It is a programmatic piece about the visions of the Jewish priest Ezekiel. In Buss’s rendering, the bassoon represents the voice of God. That seems about right. The piece is, to be sure, an opportunity for the bassoon to show its full range of possibilities—its lyrical beauty, its technical brilliance—and Kevin Hall’s virtuosic performance on this generally underappreciated instrument did not disappoint.
The first half of the program concluded with what is sometimes known as Sergei Rachmaninoff’s String Quartet No. 1, although it has only two movements, and was listed on Tuesday’s program simply as Romance and Scherzo. While both movements were beautifully nuanced, with subtle tone colors and careful attention to balance—so evident in such a small room—the ensemble in the scherzo was especially good. Almost all the pizzicati were together, which is no small feat.
The real treat of the evening came after intermission, with the ensemble’s performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in C major, Opus 59, no. 3, called the “Rasumovsky.” The level of musicality here was top-notch. No, the technical mastery was not flawless. It was, however, very good, and this performance was truly alive in a way that often does not happen, even or perhaps especially in performances that are more technically perfect. Tone colors were clearly carefully considered and varied for each movement. Stylistic details were spot on. Plus, the performance, especially the final movement, was truly exciting. It was a lovely evening all around.
» The performance repeats Wednesday night. The address of the location is given when you purchase a ticket.