Gregory Raden, principal clarinetist in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, doesn't make all that many appearances in chamber music concerts. When he does, you can count on a crowd. Such was the case on Saturday when he appeared with the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth in the delightful auditorium at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. It was almost filled to capacity. Another draw was an equally rare local appearance of the outstanding pianist Antonio Pompa-Baldi, who took the Silver Medal in the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.
It was unfortunate that these two artists didn't actually appear together on the program and a golden opportunity was missed. Raden played Mozart's ravishing Clarinet Quintet in A major (no piano part) and instead of a work for clarinet and piano, Pompa-Baldi accompanied CMSFW Music Director and violinist, Robert Davidovici, in a pedestrian (at best) reading of Beethoven's Sonata in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1. With Davidovici's head buried in the score as he slogged through the piece, there was little Pompa-Baldi could do to enliven the performance.
Raden is certainly one of the best clarinetists, if not the best, of his generation. His control of the sound is extraordinary and his phrasing is definitive. His long spinning phrases are remarkable. Occasionally, this is the result of his ability to imperceptibly circle breath, which is a process of taking air into your cheeks and pushing that out to keep the sound going while a fresh breath is taken through the nose. The second movement, reminiscent of the slow movement of the composer's concerto, was beautiful. There was a perceptible sigh in the audience when it ended.
The other outstanding aspect of Raden's playing is his dead on intonation. In the case of this current performance of the Mozart Quintet, it caused some uncomfortable moments. The string quartet was not able to match his intonation consistently throughout. This was especially noticeable in Davidovici's playing but violinist Felix Olschofka, violist Susan Dubois and cellist Eugene Osadchy all had their canted moments.
To come to the defense of the quartet, Raden's intonation is so perfect that he sets a difficult standard to meet. Further, the clarinet makes a pure tone, without the use of vibrato, which the strings use constantly. Also, Raden's instrument is pitched in A while the string instruments are pitched in C. Without getting too geeked out here, this means that the clarinet and the strings are based in different overtone series, which adds an additional wrinkle to playing any work for the combination consistently in tune.
Beethoven's Piano Trio in G major, Op. 1 No. 2, which opened the program, and the Brahms Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 101, got sympathetic performances. Pompa-Baldi was a superb collaborator in both. He was supportive in the Beethoven and assertive in the Brahms. His nimble fingers were on display right from the first movement of the Beethoven. His ability to get a gigantic sound from the piano, without over riding the instrument, brought some thrilling moments to the Brahms.
Some intonation problems persisted, but you cannot expect the same kind of precision you get from a touring quartet, such as the Brentano String Quartet, with an ad hoc quartet that only comes together for a couple of quickly assembled concerts.
It is regrettable that we had another program without any music from living composers. While we all love Brahms, Beethoven and Mozart, it is incumbent on performing arts organizations to support the work contemporary composers and an abdication when they don't.