The Cliburn Festival of Chopin’s music came to its conclusion in grand style Sunday afternoon, as the final pianist, Adam Golka, split the afternoon with a small group of string players and produced something rare with some of Chopin’s most familiar music.
They performed this trick by playing arrangements. No matter how much you love the Nocturne in E-flat or the Nocturne in C-sharp minor or the Piano Concerto No. 2, you’ve never before heard them sound quite like this.
The string instrumentalists started this experiment in new sounds with the two nocturnes. The players were the Amphion String Quartet (violinists David Southorn and Katie Hyun, violist Wei-Yang Andy Lin and cellist Mihai Marica).
The first violin was definitely the leader in both works, with the other players providing pleasant assistance. Chopin’s lyrical style transferred rather well from piano to string quartet. Incidentally, Southorn and Hyun switched positions between nocturnes, giving each a chance at glory.
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The Amphions were joined by Golka and bassist Brian Perry for the Piano Concerto No. 2. There had been an identical setup on Saturday evening for Chopin’s first concerto, but this time the arrangement worked better, especially in the balance between the piano and the strings.
Golka gave one of the best performances of the festival, ever alert to his partners’ needs and contributing greatly to a lyrical and dramatic masterpiece that was engrossing throughout.
He was also in fine form in his solo part of the program, which was played in the Renzo Piano Pavilion of the Kimbell Art Museum. His pieces were three nocturnes (which were alternated with the string players’ nocturnes), a polonaise and a ballade.
Highlights were the Ballade No. 3 and the Polonaise No. 5 — the latter a powerful, spine-tingling drama.
The Cliburn Festival, the first of what will be an annual event, was a distinct success. Before the first note, my thought was that 10 hours or so of Chopin, even divided into five programs, were going to be a bit much. But the introduction of sensible arrangements, some genuine Chopin chamber music, and a large number of solo masterpieces with a variety of moods, headed off any danger of ennui.