FORT WORTH – For better or for worse, toughness was a common thread running through the performances presented on Saturday afternoon by the Chamber Music Society in Fort Worth. The group’s first live concert since March 2020, in the auditorium of the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth, offered obscurities relating to early 20th-century European composers.
The group seems to have a dedicated audience, as the hall was three-quarters full. But several onlookers appeared restless, looking at their phones, talking with their neighbors, or, in one case, crumpling a plastic bag.
Although Austrian-born Erich Korngold is best known as a pioneer of Hollywood cinema music, he was very early a prolific and successful composer of operas, instrumental and vocal works. The A lot of noise for nothing Suite (1920), adapted from the stage music written by Korngold for Shakespeare’s comedy, reveals his penchant for lyrical melodies and energetic rhythms.
Violinist Danbi Um and pianist Baya Kakouberi delivered a passionate, sometimes overworked, story. Especially in the first and last movements, the piece called for a lighter and more flexible approach to bring out its charming qualities.
Um and Kakouberi were joined by CMSFW violinist and artistic director Gary Levinson and cellist Allan Steele in Korngold’s Suite for Piano Left Hand, Two Violins and Cello (1930). Commissioned by pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm during World War I, the work’s five movements suggest various stylistic influences.
In homage to Bach, the opening movement contains a prelude – bravely delivered by Kakouberi – and a fugue with a dark and mysterious subject. The waltzes of the second movement evoking Strauss were shaped with sensitivity. But both here and in the final, the turbo play at times led to rough and ugly results.
The expansive spirit of the fourth Lied movement evokes Mahler’s orchestral adagios. Um has spun delicate high notes with a poetic introspection. The ensemble reached a precise intonation in stripped down and open tones, deepening their emotional impact.
The Piano Quintet by Swiss composer Frank Martin (1919) was inspired by French composers of the time, such as FaurÃ© and Ravel. Although there are some engaging moments, it is quite diffuse and shows a lack of strong ideas.
With the violist Dmitry Kustanovich, the musicians of the quartet did not present a convincing argument for the piece. The performance was undoubtedly vigorous, but the sentences often needed more direction. And the busy passages were frantic at times.