Brilliant, beautiful music fills the house at Hall Ensemble concert

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 01, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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It adds a whole new meaning to the term “house band.”

The Hall Ensemble, a classical chamber music group made up of players from the Fort Worth Symphony, opened its fourth season of what are known as “house concerts” with an intimate performance at a private home Tuesday night.

The house concert concept has long been popular with the singer-songwriters in the popular music world. The idea has been around still longer for classical musicians, but, in our area, their performances are not so numerous or visible as those by the many folk and pop players who play house-circuit tours like big rock bands used to play stadium schedules.

As you might expect, hearing the outstanding players of the ensemble, which is led by the husband and wife team of bassoonist Kevin Hall and cellist Karen Hall, weave their magic just a few feet from you in a lavish den with museum-quality art on the walls is an incredibly special experience.

It is an easy thing to see a player bend or massage a specific note. You can almost feel the “thump” of the pizzicato work and hear the slight scratch of bows on strings that precedes the sound. It is all so close, in fact, that you can even tell what the heck the viola player is up to. Imagine that.

The pieces on the program were very much like the décor of the concert’s gorgeous venue: Eclectic at first glance but, once fully taken in, a brilliant and beautiful plan emerged.

The performance opened with Three Preludes by George Gershwin. Ensemble members Jennifer Chang (violin) and Ola Holowka (viola) joined the Halls in the works, which were composed for piano. But Kevin Hall’s arrangement of the pieces for bassoon and strings made these keyboard miniatures exceptionally interesting — and fun.

Also on the bill was a surprising piece (or most of a piece) from Rachmaninoff, Romance and Scherzo. The concert’s program notes (yes, there was a highly informative program distributed) explained that the movements were from one of the two string quartets the Russian composer wrote, without finishing either one.

The relatively early composition (1889) had an extremely old-fashioned feel to it, often recalling the café music of the fin de siècle. It is hard to understand why Rachmaninoff did not complete this piece. Surely he realized there was no piano part in it before he got to the second movement.

The concert closed with a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 59, in which guest violinist Qiong Hulsey joined the other string players. It was a joy from the first note to the last and featured some dazzling interplay between Chang and Hulsey.

Less satisfying was The Heavens Awaken by contemporary composer Howard J. Buss, which required all five players. The piece began promisingly with sweet sonorities and something resembling lyricism, leading the listener to think “this piece wants to be my friend.” But then the spikey weirdness started, followed by utter tedium and capped off with random cacophony. It is a pattern we have seen so many times before in modern music. Why must it be thus?

But on the whole, this concert, which called to mind the elegant musical salons of 19th century Europe, was a superb way to appreciate how good these players are and how stunning these small works can be when you are close enough to see the strings vibrate.

The Hall Ensemble will play the same program Wednesday, but the performance is sold out. For information about the group’s three remaining concerts in its 2013-14 season, go online to www.hallensemble.org or call 817-456-3584.

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