Fort Worth — On Saturday in the intimate venue that is the auditorium in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth presented a concert that is a critic’s dream. While future programs will rely on more traditional fare, this creatively conceived concert featured three rarely heard works by three composers that only remain in the repertoire on the back of one or two compositions — none of which were played here.
The first was by the Belgian violinist, pedagogue and composer, Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe, with his Poème No. 6, for two violins and piano, Op. 26. He is best known for his sonatas for unaccompanied violin. The Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist Zoltán Kodály’s Serenade followed this, with Two Violins and Viola, Op. 12. His best-known work is the suite from his opera Háry János.
The program ended with the very British Edward Elgar’s Quintet in A-minor for Piano and String Quartet, Op. 84. He is remembered by graduates worldwide when receiving their degrees to the noble strains of his ceremonial March No. 1, entitled “Pomp and Circumstance.” His other compositions that remain on orchestral concerts worldwide include the Enigma Variations and his valedictory work, the Cello Concerto, Op. 85.
The other interesting aspect of this season is that, while each concert features players that are regulars on CMSFW programs, this season they are informally organized under the moniker of A CMSFW Ensemble. While a few players make repeat appearances on this series of ensembles, each concert brings us a collection of different and equally famous artists. Certainly, the members of Saturday’s ad hoc quintet made up a strong hand of five aces. All are in international demand as soloists and chamber musicians and are also avid educators.
German violinist Felix Olschofka is in demand as a soloist, chamber musician and concertmaster. He is currently Professor of Violin and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton. The Romanian violinist Irina Muresanu currently serves on the faculty the University of Maryland and has taught at Boston Conservatory and in the Harvard and MIT Music Departments.
Violist Richard Young is best known to local audiences as the violist of the globally lauded Vermeer String Quartet. Founded in 1969 but disbanded in 2007, they reassembled for a special CMSFW concert in 2014, where they gave one final bittersweet performance of the work on their Grammy-wining CD, Haydn's Easter season string quartet, The Seven Last Words of Christ.
The Israeli cellist, Inbal Segev, is a founding member of the Amerigo Trio with former New York Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow and violist Karen Dreyfus. Her education efforts centering around her YouTube channel features her million-views master class series Musings with Inbal Segev.
The magnificent Korean pianist Jihye Chang is in wide demand as a soloist, chamber musician and educator. She’s the Visiting Assistant Professor at Florida State University's College of Music, where she has also taught as a lecturer since 2011. Since 2013, Chang has been part of the piano faculty at the Brevard Music Center.
All the original conceptual aspects of this concert notwithstanding, the music making on Saturday afternoon can be summed up in one word: magnificent.
Like music virtuosi composing for their own instrument throughout the ages, Ysaÿe’s Amitié is a showpiece of technical wizardry for two violinists. Ysaÿe was arguably the greatest violinist of his era and was the founder of the so-called Belgian violin school. The school is best remembered for innovating the constant use of a wide vibrato and his music requires a liberal libation of that technique to bring off properly. Both violinists, Olschofka and Muresanu, obliged. Harmonically, Ysaÿe’s influence of French music, most notably Debussy, doesn’t detract from distinguishing his unique musical voice.
Both violinists are equally gifted and displayed remarkable mastery of both the extreme technical difficulties and its musical demands. However, their physical differences mirrored their very different approaches to the instrument, creating contrasts that made for a rousing performance. Olschofka is tall and lank, with a serious no-nonsense approach, as he tossed off Ysaÿe’s technical exertions with a confidence borne of mastery. Muresanu may be smaller in stature but she is a gigantic spitfire of a player. She tears into the most difficult passages with relish and pristine execution. Even the most mundane passages bristle with excitement in her hands.
Considering their musical juxtaposition, Amitié is a perfect piece for them. Ysaÿe wrote what sounds like an animated conversation, even like an argument perhaps, between the pair of violinists. But Ysaÿe ends the work with a lovely reconciliation so, as the Bard said, all’s well that ends well.
With Kodály’s Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, we entered a completely different musical world filled with Hungarian folk rhythms and piquant harmonies. This is an unusual combination of instruments, especially without the aid of a piano part. But Kodály’s clever orchestration often gives the impression that you would swear that there has to be more instruments participating. While this is a basically tonal work, the atonal revolution that upset music’s apple cart for decades left its unmistakable mark on his musical voice.
Adding Young’s richly hued viola sound helped to ground Kodály’s Serenade’s otherwise completely treble tessitura. His performance of the many solo turns Kodály bestowed of the viola was a highlight of the performance.
This brings us to an even more remote musical planet with Elgar’s over-ripe Victorian version of late romanticism displayed in his piano quintet. While this is an unfair overstatement, to say the least, it is the over-riding residual impression that the work leaves in spite of its compositional excellence. It is an expansive piece that was beautifully played by all concerned. This was our first chance to hear cellist Inbal Segev, and what a stellar impression she made! Her demeanor was low-key until it was her chance to shine. At these points, she soared over the ensemble with a remarkably deep and penetrating sound, which she kept in line with the overall texture.
At the piano, Chang turned in a perfect job of defining the term “collaborative pianist.” Like Segev, and all of them for that matter, she always knew her assigned role at every point in the score. Her solo passages rose out of the existing texture and then retreated back into the musical milieu with great subtly. Her reserved use of the sustaining pedal, like using salt and pepper rather than slopped with gravy as you oftentimes hear, clarified the entire sound of the ensemble throughout.
The programming of these three pieces took us to three completely different sonic worlds and were so excellently played that this was noticeable in the subtlest of ways.
As the season progresses, bouts of Beethoven and much Mozart await us. Still, the next concert is not to be missed. It features one of the most transcendentally difficult, glorious and thrilling explosions of romanticism in the repertoire, Dohnányi’s spectacular Piano Quintet No. 2 in E-flat minor, Op. 26. It is so challenging to pull off that it is not programmed frequently. But it so fabulous that one of the rare performances is not to be missed.