Once again, the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth sold out the auditorium in the Modern Art Museum. In an era of lamentation over the proliferation of empty seats at classical music events, this organization is outgrowing its venue.
This fact was especially noticeable Saturday afternoon because of a parking nightmare. The museum’s main lot was closed, and the harried valet attendant had some 20 cars lined up five minutes before the concert was scheduled to start.
However, the performance by the Borromeo String Quartet was worth all of the parking frustration.
The program featured three quartets by very different composers: one each by Haydn and Mozart followed by Ravel’s singular masterpiece. They also played an oddity: a short piece by George Gershwin that served as an amuse-bouche. Titled Lullaby, it is really a barcarole with its rocking rhythm. It was an odd addition to the program, but it amply shows Gershwin’s remarkable talent as a composer.
Haydn’s Quartet in F major, Op. 77, No. 2 is one of a set of six, written in 1797. They are the last quartets that Haydn wrote (an ensemble he practically invented), and represent a forward leap musically in form, harmony and equalization of the four voices.
This particular quartet’s first movement is based on a jolly theme, and the quartet gave it an ebullient performance. The second movement, called a menuetto, is really a nascent scherzo, which would eventually replace the old-fashioned menuetto. After a thoughtful performance of the slow movement, the quartet gave the last movement a quick tempo and virtuosic performance.
Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C major, K. 465 was dedicated to Haydn, but the older composer was probably mystified by Mozart’s introduction, which uses dissonance and fails to establish the home key. But the quartet captured Mozart’s exuberant nature, and so, the Borromeo.
Maurice Ravel’s only string quartet, an astonishing masterpiece in the form, follows the structural suggestions in the earlier Haydn, but now with a full-blown scherzo in the middle. In fact, Ravel’s entire quartet harks back to its classical roots much more than the gauzy impressionism of Debussy’s quartet (written earlier).
The Borromeo quartet transformed its sound for Ravel’s music to bring out the richer and dramatic, yet restrained, language the composer used to separate his quartet from Debussy’s.
The Borromeo Quartet plays with great finesse. Intonation in its ensemble was as close to perfect as you can get. The dynamic range went from a whisper to full-out playing.
But the best aspect of the performance was the sensitivity to the differences in style among the composers. Even the most difficult stylistic difference to make apparent, between Haydn and Mozart, was clearly demonstrated. And the quartet really let loose in the Ravel.