The performance by the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth on Saturday at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth had a decidedly split personality — but in a good way.
The three pieces offered in the first half of the concert, dubbed “Mysteries of the East,” were composed in the last 25 years, whereas the pair of works performed in the second half were from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The music in the two parts could hardly have been further apart, so the unifying element was the excellent work of the players, including guest artist Demarre McGill on flute.
The concert began by showing its modern side, with works by Iranian composer Behzad Ranjbaran and Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Some may remember Ranjbaran and his works from his stint as composer-in-residence with the Fort Worth Symphony during its 2008-09 season. His Fountains of Fin featured McGill, music society artistic director Gary Levinson on violin and Jesus Castro-Balbi on cello. The piece displayed many of the same attributes as those we heard performed by the symphony — it was tonal, accessible music that falls easily on the ear while keeping your mind engaged. It also covered a lot of emotional and thematic ground in its dozen minutes, running the gamut from pensive to playful.
McGill, the principal flutist for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, provided a series of smooth, atmospheric lines that helped give the piece an exotic (but never strange) personality.
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Next up was another work by Ranjbaran, Elegy, a duet performed by Castro-Balbi and pianist Gloria Lin. The work, based on the slow movement from the composer’s 1998 cello concerto, was sweet, lyrical and yearning, with a surprisingly neo-Romantic feel on the whole.
The first half closed with Penderecki’s String Trio, with violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez joining Levinson and Castro-Balbi. The seven-part 1991 work had an interesting structure that linked its slower sections with short, agitated movements marked vivo (or “lively”). The work was often angular and edgy, like so much of 20th-century music. But with its abrupt changes of mood and tempo, it was also highly interesting and engaging.
The second half featured composers who are much more commonly seen on chamber music concert programs — Franz Schubert and Franz Joseph Haydn. The String Trio, D. 581, from 1817 by Schubert composer featured Levinson, Hernandez and Castro-Balbi. The work, which Laurie Schulman’s program notes informed us is one of only two in that form by Schubert to survive, has a jovial demeanor but also enough tricky bits to remind us who had jotted down the notes. And it made exceedingly good use of all three of its players.
The Flute Quartet, Opus 5 No. 5, by Haydn closed the concert. The worked showcased McGill’s virtuosity nicely, allowing him to construct sturdy, flowing lines of music that held the piece together beautifully.
Before the concert, Levinson announced that the performance of Elegy would be dedicated to the memory of the children of pianist Vadym Kholodenko, reflecting the profound heartbreak felt by the entire community in the wake of the terrible tragedy visited upon one of our finest artists.