Dallas — On Monday evening, the Fauré Quartett played a near-perfect concert at Southern Methodist University’s Caruth Auditorium, brought here by Dallas Chamber Music Society. The modifier “near” is only there because musicians always notice some spots that could have worked better. But we, the audience, certainty didn’t hear any. The performance was as perfect as I have ever heard.
Despite being named after the famous French composer, this group is from Germany. When they took the stage, it was immediately evident that the violist was not Sascha Frömbling. She was not able to make this tour and was replaced by Benjamin Rivinius. He was introduced by cellist Konstantin Heidrich and identified as a close friend of the other players: pianist Dirk Mommertz and violinist Erika Geldsetzer. Heidrich added that Rivinius is the godfather of his son and a frequent musical collaborator.
This announcement made their sublime performance all the more remarkable. You would never have guessed that Rivinius was a last-minute substitute. He fit in perfectly—like the last piece that completed an intricate puzzle.
Their program was a combination of rarities and old favorites. They opened with a one-movement work by the teenaged Gustav Mahler, his Klavierquartettsatz in A minor. It is a rare example of a chamber music work by the composer, who preferred the huge canvas offered by lengthy symphonic works. He was a conductor, after all, and the orchestra was his instrument. Still, Mahler’s morose nature was evident even in this youthful composition.
They followed this with their namesake: Fauré’s Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 15. The second half featured Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25. Written when the composer was only 23, it is the first of his three piano quartets and certainly the most well known. While the other two are more mature works, and some consider them to be better compositions, this one is the most popular, probably because of its wild gypsy-influenced last movement.
There is little use in discussion the performance of each of these pieces. The following general comments apply universally.
Ensemble and intonation were superb. None of the loud moments were overplayed, as we hear so often these days. The balance was remarkable; when one of them had a solo passage, they raised up above the sonic mixture just enough to be prominent, but never dominate, and then returned to their dynamic place.
Pianists have a special balance conundrum in playing piano quartets because their instrument has, by its nature, a much fuller sound than a single string instrument—or three of them in this case. Not so with Mommertz at the keyboard. He was always at the absolute correct level. Special mention must be made of his performance in the finale of the Brahms. The very fast passages at the octave is a legendary challenge for even the greatest pianists. Mommertz tossed them off as if they were nothing but some scales. Even here, when other pianists have to give 20 percent of their attention to just getting through it, he was always in visual contact with the other players, turning his head as he played, (and not a quick glance either). Quite remarkable.
Balance, ensemble, intonation and a finely synchronized interpretation, the four legs of a fine chamber music performance, were all here in perfect dimensions. It was as though a new instrument was invented, the Pianoquartet, which only required a single player.
This concert has easily made my Top Ten performances of the year—and this is only February. However, it also earned a place on another list made up of the Top Ten performances heard in a life of attending an uncountable number of concerts.