Dallas — If you like Romantic (and post-Romantic) ardor, you would have been delighted to be in the audience at Dallas City Performance Hall Thursday evening for one of many performances that are part of this year’s Soluna: International Music & Arts Festival. Early Rachmaninoff followed by Korngold then Enescu provided less variety than one might ideally want, but the fine playing more than compensated for any programming deficiencies. As well, there were no warhorses on this program—this was not a concert designed to pander to the masses. The downside of this choice was that, on a stormy night, Dallas City Performance Hall was mostly empty.
It’s too bad, because those who were there experienced, first, some truly fine string playing from the Amernet Quartet on Rachmaninoff’s early String Quartet No. 1. The Amernet, consisting of violinists Misha Vitenson and Marcia Littley, violist Michael Klotz, and cellist Jason Calloway, are welcome visitors to Dallas. They are string quartet in residence at Florida International University, but Klotz and Calloway have become regulars on the Metroplex chamber music scene this season, performing with groups including Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth and Blue Candlelight. As is so often the case with seasoned quartets, though, the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts. The ideal quartet performs the way a flock of birds flies, dipping and swooping in perfect formation on the basis of near-invisible cues. The Amernet displayed this kind of unity. The two-movement quartet is itself more interesting for what it presages about Rachmaninoff’s future direction as a composer than for the music as such. But the Amernet’s pristine ensemble elevated their performance from what in other hands might have been an academic exploration of a piece of juvenilia to a truly charming listening experience.
For the Amernet’s performance of the Korngold Piano Quintet in E Major, they added local pianist Baya Kakouberi. Korngold is best known for his film music—indeed, he won an Oscar for Best Original Score in 1938, for The Adventures of Robin Hood—and for his richly melodic post-Romantic violin concerto, although Dallas audiences also know him as composer of the opera Die tote Stadt, performed two seasons ago the Dallas Opera. However, Korngold composed several chamber pieces, most before his migration to Hollywood. Although the Piano Quintet lacks the Violin Concerto’s immediate appeal, it shares its insistence on beauty as the dominant aesthetic. Kakouberi and the Amernet Quartet evoked Korngold’s lushness in more lyrical passages while handling the daunting technical demands of the third and final movement with panache.
The Amernet was joined by four members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for the Enescu Octet. Instrumentation doubles that of the traditional quartet, so four violins, two violas, and two cellos. Ensemble was tight and focused, especially given that the four local musicians do not perform regularly with the Amernet, and that coordinating eight separate parts without a conductor is a challenge in any event. (In fact, conductors are sometimes employed for chamber ensembles of this size, and when this Octet premiered in 1900, the composer conducted the ensemble.)
Although in the second movement in particular a sense of musical line was sometimes lacking, and outside voices sometimes dominated the others a bit too strongly, overall the performance had propulsion and drive when called for, as in the last movement, a seemingly undanceable waltz, and gliding lyricism in other spots, especially the first movement, which is sweet enough to make the teeth ache.
If this concert proves typical of the quality of Soluna Festival offerings, we are lucky indeed to have this new addition to the Dallas musical scene.
» We have a complete schedule in our Soluna Festival special section on TheaterJones. Look for features and previews during the Soluna Festival in our special section. For more information, such as ticket prices, visit mydso.com/solunafestival