Dallas — Let’s start with a joke: “The Blue Candlelight Series would be great, if only that great music didn’t distract me from the gorgeous art in the room.”
It’s true—although Sunday’s concert by violist Michael Klotz, violinist Gary Levinson and pianist Christopher Guzman, held in the intimate setting of Richard and Enika Schulze’s Preston Hollow home, gave a capacity crowd of about 50 people such an intense musical experience that I doubt they even noticed the décor.
Now, a complaint: I had some critical remarks prepared in advance which I have been forced to scuttle. “Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise? Again? Really?” Levinson’s dedication of the work’s performance to the victims of the recent Paris attacks would have been enough to forestall my jaded whine, but his performance did an even better job. As many times and in as many different guises as this work has been tacked onto programs, could anyone possibly say anything further with it? Levinson did, and in spades. He made a former program placeholder sit up and work again.
Levinson followed the Rachmaninoff with three works by Tchaikovsky, and that might have called for more jaded whining, except that these works showed us three different sides of the composer: entertaining, in the comparatively lightweight Valse sentimentale; poetic, in the rarely played Souvenir d’un leur cher (“souvenir of a special place”), comprising a weighty slow movement, a brisk scherzo, and a closing slow movement; and the Tchaikovsky we all know and love, in the Russian Dance from Swan Lake, with its passionate cadenza which left everyone but violinist and pianist breathless.
Michael Klotz, violinist and violist both—and that used to be more common than it is today—confined himself to the viola on Sunday. He started the program with Mikhail Glinka’s unfinished Sonata for Viola and Piano in D Minor and thereby, with the help of the concert’s setting, gave many a new appreciation for this instrument whose greatest distinction often seems to be that it’s neither a violin nor a cello. Klotz’s impeccable technique and perceptive artistry would certainly have come through in a room with a stage and numbered rows of seats, but not with the same immediacy as it did Sunday evening. Nor would the eeriness of the special effects have come through quite as strongly as it did in the viola/piano arrangement of pieces from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. In these close quarters, the audience could see how he was producing the sound and hear details of the unusual tone quality that are lost in a larger space. In addition, the intimacy of the occasion allowed Klotz—and Levinson as well—to make special eye contact with the audience. Rather than a generalized eye contact with an undifferentiated group, this was the kind of contact you get when friends perform for friends. The title for the concert, “Rendezvous with My Friends,” was thus especially apt.
Texas-born pianist Christopher Guzman demonstrated that he can back off or come forward as necessary, and as an accompanist or half of a duet, he’d better be able to; they don’t invite you back if you can’t. But he also participated in the aforementioned rebirth of the Rachmaninoff Vocalise by taking command of the piece at the return of the main melody when the violin took up a countermelody. We’ve heard the music before, but Guzman helped make it new.
And his rendition of four of Alexander Scriabin’s Op. 8 Études for solo piano was a special treat. Guzman’s interpretation of the B major étude (No. 4) stood out in his highlighting a melody often lost in figuration, and his work on the D-flat major (No. 10) was hair-raising, frenetic, shocking, and hilarious. For some in the audience, the evening was their introduction to Christopher Guzman. Let’s hope we meet up with this friend again.
Finally, Laurie Shulman was listed as “Program Annotator,” but she might well have been listed among the performers. It’s nice to see that, despite her recent relocation to Virginia, we may still occasionally benefit from Dr. Shulman’s enlightening, entertaining, and sometimes indispensable comments.
Too seldom do we experience performances of this caliber at the proximity provided by the Blue Candlelight Series. If the neighbors didn’t come over to complain, it’s only because it wasn’t actually loud—just more intense than we're accustomed to. I say it’s time we got accustomed to it. Queue up, folks. There’s nothing in this world like live performance, and it doesn’t get any more live than this.