Dallas — The Blue Candlelight Music Series is always an elegant experience. The concerts are held in a private home that was designed to hold chamber music concerts, so the acoustics are excellent, and seating is arranged in rows (with several sofas in the front). The music is always interesting and the players world class.
The BCMS season opened on Oct. 13 with a program of three huge works: Beethoven’s Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 16; followed by Bedřich Smetana’s intense Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 15. After intermission, we returned to E-flat major with Antonin Dvořák’s ever-popular Piano Quartet Op. 87.
The performers were pianist and Artistic Director Baya Kakouberi and cellist Bion Tsang. Violinist Gary Levinson and violist Richard Young surprised everyone by switching instruments. It was fascinating to hear Levinson play viola, which he rarely does. Young plays both instruments on a more regular basis. Audience members who didn’t know about the instrument trade would never have guessed by the performances both artists turned in on some very difficult music.
Beethoven’s Quartet started out life as a quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. The only music that remained the same in both versions was the piano part. This is an early attempt by the composer to try to tame his basically symphonic-sized style for use in a small chamber music format. Thus, this is really a much bigger conceptualized work and is outsized for the small ensemble.
This was immediately noticeable as the ensemble played the substantially sized, slow introduction with gravitas. They wisely lightened up more than usual for the Allegro section that followed. The second movement was absolutely beautiful and was the highlight of the whole concert. The final rondo took off at an excellent clip — any faster would have ruined the effect, to bring the work to a jolly close. The piano is featured in this entire work, probably designed for Beethoven himself, and Kakouberi followed the composer’s intention and, subtly held the performance together.
The Smetana is a glorious but very heavy work, written out of the composer’s grief following the deaths of his two daughters within a short period of time. Thus, this is dense music that is heavy with emotion and extreme intensity. The performance reflected this, but it sounded even more so because the performers reached top-level dynamics too many times. It is understandable why this happened. The composer wrote it that way, but the performers didn’t scale all of the huge climaxes in such a way as to save those big moments for just a few passages. Perhaps it would have worked better in a larger hall, but it was overpowering — and downright depressing — in this intimate venue.
After a much-needed intermission, Dvořák’s Piano Quartet was a delightful change. This quartet is a marked improvement over an earlier work. For one thing, the piano writing is featured and is much more pianistic.
The performance made the most of the composer’s many twists and turns in the music, such as a bitonal touch at the beginning. They simplified their approach when it came to the second movement, saving the emotional buildup for the fourth theme.
There was some confusion at the end of the third movement when they began the finale, because the program only mentioned three. But those unfamiliar with the work soon caught on. The performance ended with hints of Roma influences accenting the excitement.