String sextets are infrequently programmed, so the concert by the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth on Saturday afternoon was even more welcome than its usual outstanding offerings. While there are many professional string quartets and trios, a sextet (with two each of violins, violas and celli) has to assemble for the occasion. For this concert, that assemblage was exceptional and the result was nothing short of amazing.
Many of these players are regulars on this series. Violinist Alexander Kerr is the concertmaster of the Dallas Symphony and violinist Felix Olshofka is an associate professor at the University of North Texas in Denton. Violist Michael Koltz is on the faculty of Miami’s Florida International University, and his remarkable sound has wowed us before. Misha Galaganov, the other violist, is on the faculty of TCU. Cellist Edward Aaron is associated with a number of internationally recognized festivals and cellist Jason Calloway teaches at Florida International.
Two string sextet masterpieces filled the program: Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence and the first sextet (Op. 18) of Johannes Brahms. They started out with the Brahms, although the program said otherwise, and an announcement of the switch came after intermission, explaining to some who were bewildered by how unlike Tchaikovsky the music sounded.
The misunderstanding didn’t appear to affect anyone’s enjoyment. Both sextets were given world-class performances by some of the best artists in the country. The level of musicians, combined with the fact that every string payer has tackled these pieces at some time or another, assured success with what had to be minimal rehearsal.
Any fine performance is a series of details. Once example: In the Brahms, the viola hands the melodic material to the first violin. Kerr kept his entry on the lowest strings of his instrument, so that the transition was seamless.
Such detail abounded. Intonation and ensemble received equally close attention. The dynamics never exceeded the composer’s intentions, and the acoustics of the concert hall at the Modern Art Museum warmed the dark sonorities. This was one of those rare magical moments when everything clicked — and we all knew it.