The title of Saturday afternoon’s program of the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth was “Slavs … With a Twist.” It’s not immediately clear what that means, but if it signifies a turning away from musical styles usually associated with certain Slavic composers, then the title was appropriate.
The concert — as usual in the auditorium of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth — was devoted to works by the two biggest names in 20th-century Russian music: Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.
The first twist came right away, with Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D Minor, Opus 40. The performers were cellist Suren Bagratuni and pianist Sergei Babayan.
Shostakovich’s music tends to be rather acidic, more given to sardonic turns than conventional melodic beauty. One might imagine some of it as coming from the pen of Gustav Mahler, had he lived on a few more decades.
But in this case Shostakovich was in a melodic mood: The sonata is lyrical, not modernistic, with a particularly lovely slow movement fronting a playful finale. Bagratuni and Babayan made an eloquent case for the work, with the former’s mournful cello and Babayan’s dirgelike piano commentary two unforgettable high points.
Prokofiev’s turn came with his Sonata for Violin and Piano in D Major, Opus 94a. Violinist Gary Levinson joined Babayan for the performance.
In contrast to Shostakovich, Prokofiev was a master of memorable melodies, and this work, familiar in chamber music circles, was no twist to unfamiliar styles. Some of the music was demonic, some jolly, all appealing. The virtuosity of Levinson and Babayan in obviously difficult music was impressive throughout.
But the most impressive performance of the afternoon involved all three musicians. This was Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor, Opus 67.
The eerie harmonics of Bagratuni’s cello were an introduction to music that seemed like it was from another world. There was some of Shostakovich’s typical sardonic playfulness, but basically the trio was a long, anguished outcry of grief (Shostakovich wrote much of the work in response to the death of a close friend).
Fittingly, Levinson told the audience that the work’s largo was being dedicated by the three musicians to the memory of Kevin Pytcher, who died recently. Pytcher was a member of the staff of classical music station WRR.