Dallas — Fine Arts Chamber Players offered an interesting program on Sunday afternoon, with three pianists playing in a variety of ways. It was the second concert of the Basically Beethoven Festival at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas.
The program opened with the young pianist Lucy Yang, who was the winner of Southern Methodist University Institute for Young Pianists' concerto competition. Anyone arriving after it began would have missed the announcement and the projected slide about her and would have had no idea who she was. This happened because the contest ended after the program went to press. However, there was little doubt about what she played. It was the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K. 488, which is very familiar to regular concertgoers.
What was different is that she played the movement with the accompaniment of a string quintet instead of the orchestra. Once the listener became accustomed to the different sound universe, it worked quite nicely. Yang gave it a lovely performance, showing a firm grasp of technique. She is young so it is not right to judge her approach to Mozart. Artists spend their entire life trying to develop their own Mozart “sound” and use of phrasing and dynamics. Yang presented a laudable start at this endeavor and has a fine future in front of her.
The second half of the program was strange. Two extremely talented pianists, Evan Mitchell and Jonathan Tsay, played four arrangements of orchestral masterpieces written for two players at one keyboard (piano four hands). This is the way that music students learned the repertoire before the age of recordings and is still the way that conducting students learn their craft. The big question is: Why did they play these works in this arrangement, considering that there is a large quantity of excellent music written specifically for this combination that rarely gets exposure on recitals?
The problem was not helped by the choice of what they played. The first three pieces depend on the colorful orchestration of the original versions to properly come off.
First up was Debussy’s divine Afternoon of a Faun, a piece made of pure gossamer. The percussive piano didn’t really fit, even though the pianists did a fine job of imitating the harp glissandi. What followed was the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, one of the first examples of program music, or music that describes a particular scene or feeling. This particular movement describes a trip to the countryside, which Beethoven dearly loved. It is quite repetitive, which is mainly hidden by the interplay of the orchestra. Here, laid bare on the piano, it sounded maddeningly repetitive; like a forerunner of 20th century minimalism.
The third piece, Mussorgsky’s eerily spectacular tone poem Night on Bald Mountain, was just as challenging on the piano. Rimsky-Korsakov made a splashy version and that’s what is best-known. The arrangement for piano four hands dilutes the piece of its orchestral clothing, which made the work so popular. The final work on the program was more successful because of the rip-roaring finale — an arrangement of Rossini’s exciting William Tell Overture, of Lone Ranger fame.
Aside from the questionable music selections, there was absolutely no doubt about the ability of the two pianists. They were marvelous with impeccable technique and the correct feel for the music.
» The Basically Beethoven Festival continues every Sunday in July, at Moody Performance Hall, with the Rising Star Recital at 2:30 p.m. and the concert at 3 p.m.
July 21 will begin with Rising Star Ishan Loomba, a 2019 Junior Cliburn competitor. The Feature Performance is a string quartet with Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra connections. The Festival will conclude on July 28 with a Rising Star duo: Anais Feller, violin, and Ella Tran, piano. The Feature Performance boasts a flute quartet led by Margaret Fischer, flute.