Earthquakes have been so frequent in our area and, it seems, around the world lately that it should be no surprise that the Renzo Piano Pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum had one of its own on Saturday afternoon.
But there were no seismic measures registered at the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth’s presentation of the Vermeer String Quartet at the new performance venue. Instead, the “earthquake” in question came not from Mother Nature but rather from Joseph Haydn, in the closing section of the lone piece on Saturday’s program, his The Seven Last Words of Christ.
And while the ground was not moved, several souls in the near-capacity crowd of about 250 probably were.
This 1785 work comprises an introduction and seven sections in addition to the finale, which offers a musical version of the earthquake, which, according to the Bible, occurred just after Jesus’ death on the cross.
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These musical movements were interspersed with spoken “meditations,” or homilies, based on the particular Bible verse announcing each part. These were presented by an ecumenical rainbow of readers that included a rabbi, an imam, a painter and a judge, in addition to a preacher and a priest.
Called “The Melding of Art, History & Personal Reflection,” the concert was a highly creative way to present a program that was ideal for the Easter weekend and vividly realized the society’s theme of reflection for this season as a whole.
The piece was somber throughout but rarely dreary. It tested the full range of a string quartet’s skills, requiring not only extremely thoughtful and mournful playing but also some pizzicato work and a few lighter, more lyrical touches.
This work is closely associated with this legendary quartet, which performs rarely these days, venturing out primarily to play this piece. So do you think it was well played? Let’s put it this way: Once the last note decayed, I’m pretty sure that somewhere Haydn high-fived Mozart.
The new performance space proved to be mostly friendly to a string quartet. The sound filled the room impressively, with the lower notes from the viola and cello coming through with exceptional clarity. The only quibble that might be made is that the sound was almost too good at times. A few normal but typically inaudible sounds, such as bows against strings before the resulting note has evolved, were heard as well.
On the whole, the performance met all its goals beautifully, with the speakers (who wrote their own parts) doing their jobs as well as the musicians. It may not have been as much fun as an Easter egg hunt, but it was an interesting and unusual way to bring superbly performed classical music and this religious holiday together.