Eager valet parking attendants met the car, waiters served wine and served tasty bites on trays, chairs were set up in the mansion’s great room, guests mingled, well-known local musicians and local arts board members were spotted, and three Brahms works received spectacular performances. Where was this? New York? Nah. Right here in Dallas.
The Blue Candlelight Music is a series of chamber music concerts that are usually held at the Baron Mansion in Preston Hollow, one of the premier estates in Dallas. These are truly “salon” concerts in the tradition of years gone by when the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin gave private recitals in prestigious homes or the palaces of royalty. What a way to spend an evening!
The sold-out crowd was treated to an all-Brahms concert. Dallas Symphony Senior Associate Concertmaster Gary Levinson, with cellist Ko Iwasaki and pianist Yurie Iwasaki (his wife), played a sensitive and thoughtful concert that included two sonatas and a piano trio.
Levinson and Ms. Iwasaki started things off with Brahms’ Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major, Op. 78. This is one of the composer’s most beautiful creations, full of melody and graceful touches. It is most definitely not a virtuoso showpiece; even barely adequate violinists can play it. However, in the hands of a great artist, it is mesmerizing, and such was the case with Levinson and his Stradivarius on Monday.
His performance was full of so many subtle nuances that it is impossible to list them all. One standout was his use of harmonics. Since this work is in G major, the bottom two strings will both be able to make harmonics, that glassy sound that happens with the string is not pressed down but is only lightly touched. Frequently in this piece, harmonics abound and their effect is diminished by familiarity. Levinson used this effect in all the right places, often times in conjunction with the note played in the regular manner.
In a sonata, the instrumentalist and the pianist are equal partners, not just an accompanist. Ms. Iwasaki seemed to be unsure of herself in this work and there were some clunkers here and there.
Not so in the Brahms Sonata for Cello and Piano in B major, Op. 8. Here, Ms. Iwasaki was the perfect partner to cellist Ko Iwasaki. Maybe this is because they are married and this sonata is a perfect bonding experience for a pianist and cellist. However, I think that this piece is in her DNA, unlike the violin sonata, and that she would enhance a performance with any other cellist in the world.
Ko Iwasaki, also playing a Strad, gave a performance that was equal to that of Levinson. But there were some differences. Unlike Levinson’s vibrato, which is sometimes too fast, Mr. Iwasaki’s vibrato is always lush and rich. However, also unlike Levinson, Mr. Iwasaki didn’t completely understand the partnership part of a sonata. There are places where he is clearly meant to be accompanying the piano, but he played these sections as if the opposite were true. In his view, he was always the soloist, even when playing mundane figures when the piano had the tune, which is not how Brahms intended.
That aside, Mr. Iwasaki’s sound is just amazing, and while some of the credit has to go to the instrument, most has to go to him. His sound is almost always mentioned in reviews, and for good reason. When sitting this close to him it was overwhelming. The room was bathed in cello.
A delightful arrangement of a Georgian song, "Suliko," by Blue Candlelight Artistic Director Baya Kakouberi, offered an intermezzo. After which, the guests were then treated to Brahms’ Piano Trio in B Major, Op. 8, which brought the three of artists together. It was a terrific performance for all of the reasons mentioned above.
After hearing them separately, it was easier to hear the similarities and differences of the two instruments. This was the real treat of the evening; the two Strads joining together in such a romantic score. An experience like that, hearing them up close and in the hands of two such outstanding players, makes you realize just how superior these centuries-old instruments really are.
On Nov. 19, Blue Candlelight Music will present the highly praised St. Petersburg String Quartet. This concert will not be at the Baron house but will take place at the equally fine House at the Preston Hollow. Tickets are $50 and the series is $225 (but this includes the reception). Other concerts will be on Jan. 17, Feb. 18 and April 20, and will be back at the Baron Mansion. Advance tickets are recommended, because these concerts regularly sell out.
For complete concert information, visit www.bluecandlelight.org.