Fort Worth — As anticipated, the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth opened its season with glorious playing and intriguing, thought-provoking repertoire Saturday afternoon at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The totally classy venue provided a perfect backdrop for an almost-all-Russian repertoire devoted, with one short detour, to the two greatest composers of the Soviet era.
Prokofiev distilled an incredible range of influences, moods, and ideas in his brief Sonata for Two Violins, the work with which the program opened. Here, the group’s artistic director Gary Levinson (a very busy man who also serves as senior principal associate concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony) joined guest violinist Francesca dePasquale (a member of the music faculty at Rutgers and a protégé of Itzhak Perlman) here for an exemplary performance in which two violinists blended their distinctive qualities in perfect ensemble, while preserving their individual voices. The shadow of J.S. Bach’s short, lean keyboard works (e.g., the Inventions and many of the Preludes) loomed large here, with the two violins occasionally merging into striking—and, in this case, perfectly intoned—unisons.
DePasquale, a violinist we’d definitely love to hear more from, joined pianist Paul Nersessian, a member of the faculties of the Moscow Conservatory and Boston University, for Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1. Prokofiev launches this work with a lonely, piano-dominated first movement; hints of the composer’s contemporaneous ballet scores abound the second. But the most memorable of many moments arrived in the Andante third movement, in which a rippling piano part accompanies an aria for violin, presented with soaring but always clean lyricism by DePasquale.
Schubert’s cheerfully Haydn-esque Trio in B-flat for Strings brought violinist Levinson back on stage, along with cellist Bion Tsang (of the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin) and violist Richard Young (of the Vermeer Quartet). A lucid performance of this single surviving Allegro movement from what is either an incomplete or partially lost work provided a palate-cleansing sorbet between the main courses, as well as a reminder of Prokofiev’s deep admiration for Schubert.
After intermission, the entire entourage returned for the Quintet for Piano and Strings by the other titan of Soviet-era music, Shostakovich. As in the works of Prokofiev from earlier in the program, the influence of Bach echoes prominently: the work opens with a massive and dark Prelude, followed by a patiently unwinding fugue. The third movement Intermezzo put the spotlight on violinist Levinson and his muscular but beautiful tone, before the delicate, conciliatory Finale.