Fort Worth — Artistic Director Gary Levinson proved his worth again on Saturday when he stepped in at the last-minute for a missing violinist in the Amelia Piano Trio, enabling the concert to go forward at the concert hall in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. This was no easy task. The music on the program was extremely difficult for one thing. Some of it was unfamiliar, and Levinson had to learn it from scratch. Adding to the problems, these touring ensembles spend endless hours getting every nuance exactly together and then they spend years on the road living like family. Stepping in like this, especially in a trio with only pianist Andrew Armstrong and cellist Jason Duckles present, is like adding a new person on an Olympic rowing or bobsled team.
(It wasn’t quite clear what happened to the missing violinist, Anthea Kreston.)
The bottom line? While it was not the perfect program that the intact Amelia was expected to present, the three wildly different selections came off beautifully.
Hard to tell if the opening number was originally programed or added for Levinson’s benefit. Whatever the reason, he gave a stunning performance of Henryk Wieniawsk’s Legende for piano and violin. Like Paganini and Rachmaninoff, Wieniawsk was a virtuoso who wrote music mostly for him to play on his concert tours. Naturally, under such circumstances, these composers turned out real showpieces. The Legende is a tamer affair than the composer’s violin concerti, but it still offered Levinson the chance to show his abilities. It also allowed him to show off the huge rich sound of his Stradivarius violin.
The program ended with Anton Arensky’s very romantic Piano Trio No. 2 in F minor, but before we got there we heard Triptych — The Mirror with Three Faces, a trio written in 2015 by contemporary composer Lera Auerbach. She is a Russian-American composer who was born in 1973. As with much of modernist music, even when firmly rooted in tonality such as this work, it was a fascinating and troubling piece for the audience.
The title refers to medieval paintings that are in three hinged parts, with two side panels amplifying the center one. Auerbach turns this into five movements by writing music for the folding of the two outside panels.
The music itself is drawn on her three cycles of preludes in all of the keys and some familiar styles are in the mishmash. There are some waltzes, a little Bach and Bartók, and some mournful Russian lines weaving throughout.
No one, well almost no one, is familiar with her 72 preludes, so it is impossible to match up the materials—but we took her word for it. The music itself sounded like people look in a fun house mirror. Everything is canted and distorted, like a Fellini movie or Dali painting. This woozy mal de mer texture permeated the entire work and, while it was charming for a while, it began to wear as the work progressed. One hopes that this is not her style for everything she writes, although she is known for experimentation. Her 2011 opera The Blind requires the entire audience to be blindfolded.
After the preceding experience, Arensky’s ultra romantic trio was a guilty pleasure. His surging harmonies and buildups to climatic moments are the very stuff of Russian music, especially from this fin du ciecle era. He was the student of Tchaikovsky and the teacher of Rachmaninoff and you can easily hear the bridge between the two composers in this trio. The three artists gave it a lush performance with lots of rubato, vibrato and bravura.