Performing Arts

Hall Ensemble, Alex McDonald bring surprises to BRIT concert

The Hall Ensemble presented “A Grand Evening” at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Here, guest pianist Alex McDonald and violinist Jennifer Chang perform a Brahms sonata.
The Hall Ensemble presented “A Grand Evening” at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Here, guest pianist Alex McDonald and violinist Jennifer Chang perform a Brahms sonata. Special to the Star-Telegram

Hall Ensemble audiences have come to expect something a little offbeat when the musical group sits down to play. Tuesday night’s program had two such surprises — one musical, the other technical.

The musical one was a piano quintet by one Hermann Goetz. You’ve probably never heard his name before, but he was a contemporary of Brahms and Tchaikovsky and a number of other musical notables.

The technical surprise was the electronic score of Alex McDonald, the evening’s guest pianist. His iPad contraption replaced a human page-turner, allowing McDonald to flip the pages with a slight toe-tap whose signal is transmitted wirelessly to the iPad (there’s a provision for turning pages backward, as well, for repeated passages).

Pianists have employed electronic page-turners in Fort Worth before, but they are still a bit unusual. They make a lot of sense, putting the player in charge of the flipping. One wonders if there will be glitches (What if the computer crashes? But of course they never do that sort of thing). At any rate, McDonald’s seemed to work flawlessly Tuesday night.

The program, in the atrium of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, began conventionally with the music of two giants, Brahms and Mozart.

Violinist Jennifer Chang and McDonald opened with Brahms’ Sonata No. 1 in G for violin and piano, Opus 78.

This was a lovely performance, with Chang’s lyrical violin counterbalanced by McDonald’s strong but considerate assistance. Chang used an old-fashioned paper score, by the way.

Mozart’s great Piano Quartet in E-flat was given a joyous performance by McDonald, Chang, violist Aleksandra Holowka and cellist Karen Hall.

Goetz was represented by his Piano Quintet in C minor.

The only offbeat aspect of the performance was that Kevin Hall joined the other performers of the evening, playing the quintet’s bass part on the bassoon.

Goetz’s music sounded a bit like that of Brahms, particularly in some forceful passages in the piano. Overall, not a bad work, though it seems unlikely to ever be counted a masterpiece.

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