Gary Levinson and Darejan Baya&nbsp;<span>Kakouberi performing together at New York\'s Symphony Space</span>
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Review: Brahms | Musical Bridges Around the World

The Gift of Brahms

Musical Bridges Around the World and the San Antonio Chamber Music Society join in the Alamo City's Brahms festival.

published Tuesday, January 22, 2013

San Antonio is forward-thinking in its support of the arts. The folks at performing arts organizations actually speak to each other and plan citywide festivals. Imagine that. Right now, there is a major Brahms festival going on and everyone, from the chamber music groups to the symphony, is involved. On Sunday, two groups, Musical Bridges Around the World and the San Antonio Chamber Music Society, joined forces to present a fascinating salon concert in a stunning home.

Three guest artists combined to present the Brahms A major violin sonata and one of his universally acclaimed masterpieces, the Trio in E flat Major, Op. 40, for piano, violin and horn. Two of the artists came from Dallas: Gary Levinson, Senior Principal Associate Concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony and the outstanding pianist Darejan Baya Kakouberi, who also is the Executive Director of the Dallas' Blue Candlelight Music Series.

Also on the program, was a musical oddity that requires a word of explanation. This is the F.A.E Sonata for violin and piano, that was written with three different composers contributing movements. F.A.E. stands for a motto that was popular at the time, and Joachim had adopted it, "Frei aber einsam" ("free but lonely"). Very Romantic, but that was in the air at the time. The notes F-A-E unify the work.

The score was written as a birthday present for Joseph Joachim, the leading violinist of his day. (Joachim consulted on Brahms' violin concerto to assist the composer on the instrument's technical matters). Robert Schumann organized the collaboration of the composers. He asked his student, Albert Dietrich, to write a big first movement in expanded sonata form. Schumann himself wrote a short Romanze as the second movement. The Scherzo was by Johannes Brahms (later published separately), thus qualifying the work for the Brahms festival. Schumann provided a bizarre finale.

Levinson and Kakouberi did a fine job with this strange musical conglomeration. The last movement, by Schumann, ends with a flurry of violin virtuosity that many stand as a candidate for the worst violin music ever written (certainly the most clumsy for the instrument that I have ever heard). Levinson did better with it than the composer deserved but it brought the work to a frantic close. The Brahms A Major sonata which followed, a much better piece over all, was lovely.

Principal horn in the San Antonio Symphony, Jeff Garza, joined the two musicians for the Horn Trio. This is one of the truly magical pieces of music and is on almost everyone's desert island list. It is such a magnificent piece that it always fills the hall. Such was the case on Sunday when the host home was completely filled, with some guests content to have a seat where they couldn't even see the artists. Just hearing the performance was enough for them.

Both Levinson and Kakouberi have completely mastered the style of Brahms and both dug in with ripe and overflowing German Romanticism. Levinson's Stradivarius never sounded better, especially his work on the G-string, which sounded out with amazing richness without even a hint of string growl. Kakouberi was the perfect collaborator, playing out where needed but offering support elsewhere, such as the famously difficult rhythmic offbeat section. Garza turned in a fine performance, but his more timid approach, perhaps "careful" is a better word, kept him in a secondary position throughout. Even in his big moments, he never let the horn blaze out, as Brahms so obviously wanted. He played with spot on intonation and with mastery of this notoriously cantankerous instrument. But he is young and surely will grow into this piece as he progresses as a musician and gains to confidence to let it rip every now and then. It will be of great interest to hear him play it some 10 years or so in the future.

The trio played a short encore by the obscure French impressionist composer, Charles Kirklandn, a student of Faure. Garza said it was one of a set of four pieces and it greatly impressed. We wished they had played another of them. Thanks For Reading


Paul writes:
Tuesday, January 22 at 5:48PM

I bet I know why Mr. Garza was so timid. Either the other performers or some interested party listening to rehearsal harped about how loud the horn was sounding. This is always the case with this piece. The modern horn can be a problem for this wonderful piece in terms of balance. Having played this a couple of times and heard it numerous times, the horn player is usually beaten down into submission and sacrifices all expression for fear of reprimand. Mr. Garza should have stood up for himself and played more lyrically, but he is probably a nice guy and was trying not to make waves. Too bad.

Gary Levinson writes:
Thursday, January 24 at 8:56AM

Paul's interesting commentary compels the record be set straight. Since he was not present at the rehearsals, or at the concert, which is so obvious from his comments, he should know what the facts are. No one was present at the rehearsal, nor was there any commentary about the horn being too loud. On the contrary, our work with Mr. Garza was extremely productive and on the same page from the first downbeat of the first rehearsal. His approach is personal which both Ms. Kakouberi and I embraced. We also loved that he treated the work as a masterpiece of chamber music rather than a vehicle for the instrument, which is one of the reasons the trio was well received.

As for the "horn player is usually beaten down into submission and sacrifices all expression for fear of reprimand", I suggest Paul leave Oz, follow the Yellow Brick Road for a visit to Reality Land. It is a lovely place where objective events take place. Having played this trio well over a hundred times with numerous principal horn players, horn soloists and pianists, I can assure you that horn players are not the shy and retiring kind. As a group they can stand up for what they believe and do it in a manner that any fine artist does and should. This was no exception here; we are already making plans to collaborate in other venues with Mr. Garza and I look forward to that collaboration. So it is always helpful to check some facts before spouting baseless opinions which mislead those who would like to share an experience of a concert when reading the review.

Thomas Masinter writes:
Friday, January 25 at 6:54PM

It sounds to me like Garza got a good review: "fine performance" "spot on intonation" "mastery of his instrument". It appears that Garza supported the ensemble well as a team player without ever attempting to be the star. I don't know if Brahms wanted the horn to blaze out in this composition since I don't know Brahms and have not seen the score. But I have put my hands on my ears to protect them from a blazing horn attack. Bravo for Garza!

David W. Sapire writes:
Saturday, January 26 at 8:52AM

What would critics do if they could not nitpick?

Victor Ostrower writes:
Saturday, January 26 at 1:55PM

Thank you, Ken and Sheila!!!!! As for all the talk, Eh

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The Gift of Brahms
Musical Bridges Around the World and the San Antonio Chamber Music Society join in the Alamo City's Brahms festival.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

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