Fort Worth — This year’s Cliburn Festival celebrated Beethoven at 250. It included five chamber music concerts in four days, all at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. They featured members of the Verona Quartet, both collectively and separately; pianists Kenny Broberg, Sean Chen, and Filippo Gorini; baritone David Grogan; and violinist Chloé Trevor. Each concert reflected a mood. The first, “Optimism,” began with the cheery trifle that is the Sonata for Piano Four Hands in D Major. In the four hands of Broberg and Chen, it was expressively and charmingly played.
Beethoven isn’t particularly known as a writer of songs, especially songs in English, but the three Scottish Songs selected from Opus 108 were a delicious surprise. Sung by the formidable David Grogan, with assistance from Broberg on piano and Jonathan Ong and Jonathan Dormand on violin and cello respectively, these songs with lyrics by Walter Scott and William Smyth were beautifully phrased and sung by Grogan, a local favorite. The instrumentation of piano trio and baritone is a bit of an oddball combination, and Beethoven often had one or more instruments playing the melody tutti with the singer.
The program continued with three of Beethoven’s many sonatas — for Piano and Cello, No. 3 in A Major, with Dormand and Chen; for Violin and Piano, No. 8 in G Major, with Dorothy Ro and Gorini; and for Piano, No. 31 in A-flat Major, with Broberg.
When Beethoven wrote “Piano and Cello,” he meant it — as with most of the violin sonatas, the piano part is equally or more demanding and important than is the part for violin. In this case, Chen was more pleasing to listen to, with a glittering, multifaceted sound, than was cellist Dormand, who, though nimble, sometimes sounded choked in his upper register. Still, it was a pleasurable performance overall.
In the violin sonata, Ro offered a bright, brilliant tone that was well-suited to this sonata. Only in the third movement did she and Gorini sometimes waver — they took the movement, marked Allegro vivace, at quite a fast clip indeed, and perhaps as a result, ensemble occasionally suffered, but it was an exciting performance.
Wrapping up the program, Broberg offered a delicate expressiveness in the first, slow movement of the piano sonata, brought some brio when called for in the second, and demonstrated his ample technique in the third. In a world of heavy-handed pianists, Broberg delivers a welcome contrast of contemplative musicality.