Franz Schubert’s Fantasy in F minor, D. 940, for two pianists at the same keyboard is rarely programmed. But it opened the Sunday-afternoon concert of the Mimir Chamber Music Festival with two superb pianists.
The work deserves more frequent programming and, perhaps, its recent reclassification as chamber music is the reason for its recent renaissance. When he wrote it, Schubert was dying, homeless and thought himself a failure as a composer. Some of that misery is conveyed in the music.
But pianists Alessio Bax and John Novacek took it more quickly than usual and the effect was remarkable. Its melancholy nature was noticeably brightened. Also, Novacek’s judicious use of the sustain pedal gave it some noteworthy clarity. Bax’s ability to make the piano sing smoothed the sublime melody, which can sound like it has trouble getting started.
By contrast, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40 was an early work. But all was not well with the composer at the time. He left his wife for the company of a young student and his conflict is the stuff of this sonata. (They were eventually reconciled.)
Also, the sonata was written just before the heavy hand of Joseph Stalin descended on the young composer. Stalin had grimaced all the way through a performance of Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, which had previously been widely praised.
Bax was joined by the amazing cellist Brant Taylor. They caught Shostakovich’s wildly shifting moods, from long and restless melodies to biting satire. The high point of the performance was the pathos they brought to the mournful and bleak third movement. Rather than end it, they let the music fade away and eventually vanish.
The program, at Renzo Piano Pavilion in Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum, closed with more Schubert: his String Quartet in D minor, D. 810. Its nature can be discerned by the subtitle “Death and the Maiden,” which is one of his earlier songs.
Unlike the fantasy we heard earlier, this is a work of unrelenting hopelessness.
Violinists Stephen Rose and Jun Iwasaki and violist Joan DerHovsepian joined Rose for an extraordinary performance. In their hands, it was, in turns, frantic, full of dread and terror, and resigned to death’s release.
The audience sat silent and transfixed for almost 40 minutes until the rousing ovation.
If you go
Concerts continue at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Friday at PepsiCo Recital Hall inside the Walsh Center for Performing Arts, 2800 S. University Drive, TCU.
Mimir is also an educational festival, training emerging artists. Tickets are $30 and available at www.mimirfestival.org.