Chamber Music International has supplied some memorable musical concerts over the years. Saturday night at Saint Barnabas Church in Richardson was not one of them.
All the elements for a fine concert were in place: The place was sold out. Artists with international reputations, and competition medals on the wall, were supplied with an outstanding masterpiece to perform. But, unfortunately, this time it all added up to zero.
The problem was, most probably, a lack of rehearsal time. These artists came from the four corners of the country, even from Alaska, and flew in for a couple of hasty rehearsals and a concert. This does not bode well, even when you have this level of musicians, when you are putting together a major work of genius such as the Brahms B-flat major String Sextet.
Things started off badly with the talented pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine stuck with cellist Nathaniel Rosen in Beethoven's A-major Cello Sonata (Op. 69). Rosen displayed a wondrous tone, full and rich. He also displayed considerable technique, but his performance was rough edged. Moutouzkine, one of the brightest stars of the younger generation, did the best he could to bring life to the performance, but Rosen refused to comply. He clearly was having an off night. His performance was wooden and so out of tune as to bring visible cringes in the audience.
Smetana's dark and brooding Piano Trio fared much better when the Alaska-based violinist Paul Rosenthal and cellist Jungshin Lim Lewis joined with Moutouzkine in a much happier union. This was the highlight of the concert, yet a few extra rehearsals wouldn't have hurt. This mostly showed up in the dynamics and occasionally in the ensemble. When a piece like this is carefully thought out, all three players know where is the loudest point and where is the softest and then scale everything else in-between. Here, many passages competed to be the loudest and as a result, the playing was frequently in overdrive without intending to be.
Overall, Moutouzkine was dazzling in the Smetana. None of its awesome technical demands gave him troubles as he tossed them off with brilliance. There were times that he overplayed but, caught as he was in the dynamic vortex around him, there was little else for him to do. He is a pianist with all the gifts needed for a major career. He is equally impressive as a solo pianist as he is in a collaborative role, as he was in this concert.
The Brahms sextet filled the second half of the program. Joining Rosenthal, Rosen and Lewis were violinist Felix Olschofka and violists Susan Dubois and Daphne Gerling. As mentioned before, this is one of the gigantic pieces of the repertoire and one that requires considerable thought as well as technical command of the notes. Each of these artists brought considerable chamber music experience and their own understanding of the music to the performance. However, there was little groupthink about it and, like in the Smetana, no overall and agreed upon roadmap of the path from the first note to the last. Dynamics lacked any truly soft playing and reached beyond where any Brahmsian fortissimo should go. Once again, intonation suffered and all involved shared in the blame and there is little to be gained by pointing out individual errors.
There were some lovely moments in the Brahms, especially from Dubois, but that only served to taunt us with the thought of what a wondrous performance we might have enjoyed if they were all working together from the same game plan.
Maybe it was just that everyone had an off night.