“We were never afraid to have fun.” That was Karen Hall’s fitting summation of the nine-year history of the Hall Ensemble, which — alas — presented its farewell concert Thursday night at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Fort Worth.
The Hall Ensemble was formed in 2008 by Hall, a cellist, and her husband, bassoonist Kevin Hall. Two other regular members were violinist Jennifer Betz and violist Aleksandra Holowka. The group was often expanded by the inclusion of guest artists who, on Thursday night, included flutist Jake Fridkis and harpist Jill Levy.
All have ties, either as members or freelancers, with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
The venues of Hall Ensemble concerts were varied. These included popular house concerts, in which, as in days of yore, the ensemble performed chamber music in private homes. There were also what the group billed as “casual concerts” in public spaces.
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Part of the fun of Hall Ensemble programs was the intimate settings. Everybody gathered round, and the nearest could almost reach out and touch the performing musicians.
The music was also varied — and entertaining. Because the repertoire for bassoon with strings is limited, and because Kevin Hall is a skilled arranger, Hall Ensemble audiences got to hear a lot of music unlikely to be heard anywhere else. Folk tunes sometimes mixed with high art.
The opener in Thursday night’s concert wouldn’t have surprised Hall Ensemble regulars. It was a collection of folk-song tunes for flute, bassoon and harp by the late Dewey Owens. “Arkansas Traveler,” “Sweet Betsy From Pike” and “Turkey in the Straw” were some of them. “I’m Just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger” was actually quite moving despite the unusual combination of instruments.
On the other end of the formality scale were a prelude from a Bach cello suite, with Karen Hall performing, and Debussy’s Trio for Flute, Viola and Harp, with Fridkis, Holowka and Levy as the performers. The Debussy is a surprising masterwork, not often heard, I assume, because of its rare combination of instruments.
A Fantasy for Violin and Harp by Saint-Saëns and a likable Quartet for Bassoon and Strings by Beethoven contemporary Franz Danzi rounded out the program.
An encore, a tango by Astor Piazzolla, was a fittingly offbeat farewell.