Dallas — Sunday evening’s Blue Candlelight Music Series concert was a family affair in more ways than one. First, two members of the string quartet that delivered the performance are a husband-and-wife team, Dallas Symphony Orchestra violinist Alexandra Adkins and principal cellist Christopher Adkins. (Joining them were DSO violinist Bing Wang and principal violist Ellen Rose.)
Secondly, the music itself had a family connection. The quartet played two pieces by Antonin Dvořák as well as one by his son-in-law Josef Suk, plus one by his student Louis Gruenberg, for good measure.
This concert, like all Blue Candlelight concerts this season, was held in the stunning Preston Hollow home of Enika and Richard Schulze, who hosted a truly lovely event. The evening began with wine, conversation, and hors d’oeuvres. The first performance of the evening was not on the program: a selection of three piano pieces by 13-year-old pianist Max Wang. He is beginning to exhibit a nice range of tonal colors and plays with sensitivity and sophistication for his age.
The first piece on the program, Four Diversions for String Quartet, Op. 32, was composed in 1930 by Dvořák’s aforementioned student, Louis Gruenberg. According to Laurie Shulman, who provided opening remarks, no contemporary recording of this piece is available, so it was a rare performance indeed. Presenting a challenging modernist piece as a program opener might seem like a hard sell, but each of the four movements was brief, execution was top-notch, and the piece itself is fun and relatively accessible for its time period.
Also on the first half of the program was Josef Suk’s “Meditation on the Old Bohemian Chorale ‘St. Wenceslas.’” This piece begins with a lyrical viola solo, performed beautifully by Ellen Rose. Although there were minor intonation problems in this piece, overall each member of the quartet was pulling great sound out of his or her instrument, especially the inner voices, Rose and second violinist Alexandra Adkins.
The first of two Dvořak pieces, sort of, rounded out the first half. The “sort of” because the quartet played cellist Christopher Adkins’s arrangement of Fritz Kreisler’s transcription of Dvořák’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” The arrangement retained much of Kreisler’s hyper-romanticism, and was thus a lot of fun.
The second half of the program was perhaps more substantive and definitely more familiar: it consisted only of Dvořák’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96, “American.” The first movement begins with a viola solo, and Ellen Rose’s sound was elegant and lovely. The ensemble was not always perfectly tight here, but level of musicality was high, and playing was exciting, which more than made up for any minor technical flaws.
In the second movement, the cello has a well-known extended solo, and Christopher Adkins took the opportunity to demonstrate his sweet, pure, buttery tone and his beautiful Romantic vibrato. The quartet took the final movement at a true vivace tempo, keeping the pace quick and the mood exciting to round out the evening… almost. The audience was treated to an encore, a richly arranged version of Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.”
What a lovely evening. A concert of interesting and in some cases seldom-heard music performed by absolutely top-notch musicians in a truly fabulous home environment. A true delight.