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.