Dallas — On Oct. 5, Fine Arts Chamber Players open their season with a new series name, the Hallam Family Concerts. It was still held at the auditorium in the Dallas Museum of Art, which is a less-than-ideal venue because of the poor acoustics. However, it has the advantage of being intimate, so the musicians are close to the audience. Plus, you can wander through the museum before or after.
The program was titled French Impressions and featured an ensemble typical of the chamber music of that era: violist Sarah Kienle, harpist Emily Levin and flutist Ebonee Thomas. All three were excellent, but Thomas was a standout.
They opened with an arrangement of Maurice Ravel’s piano “Sonatine,” created by the legendary harpist, Carlos Salzedo. Hearing it was an odd experience because the music was so familiar, but the sound was completely different. There isn’t much chamber music for the harp, so it is understandable that they depend on arrangements.
The next piece, written in 1992, was And then I knew ‘twas Wind by Tonu Takemitsu. The title comes from a poem by Emily Dickinson. The composer wrote it as a tribute to the piece that closed the program, Debussy’s Sonata No. 2 for flute, viola, and harp. He even quotes melodic elements and, while his style has original elements, Debussy’s language shines through.
Thus, by the time we got to the Debussy itself, the program turned out to be too much of a good thing. While praise is certainly due for programming a recently written work, something by one of the other impressionists would have offered some aural contrast that would have set us up better to hear Debussy’s masterpiece.
Thomas’ playing was quite extraordinary, displaying a variety of sounds as the phrases required. Sometimes her sound was deep, even in the higher ranges, but she easily switched to the metallic more treble sound evening the lower ranges. In the Takemitsu, she easily produced all of the extra-musical sounds that he tosses in more for effect than musical reasons.
Kienle produces a lovely sound on her viola. It has a flexible sound, neither leaning towards the sounds of the cello or violin. The three played with excellent ensemble, balance and intonation. The performance was almost too carefully approached. A little more risk-taking would have added some fire here and there, perking things up occasionally.