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Review: Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth delivers robust performances, but with some overplaying

Presented at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, it was the group’s first live concert since the pandemic began.

FORT WORTH — For better and for worse, robustness was a common thread through performances presented Saturday afternoon by the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth. The group’s first live concert since March 2020, in the auditorium of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, offered relative obscurities by early 20th-century European composers.

The group appears to have a devoted following, as the hall was more than three-quarters full. But several audience members seemed restless, looking at their phones, talking with their neighbors or, in one case, crinkling a plastic bag.

Though Austrian-born Erich Korngold is mainly remembered as a pioneer of Hollywood film music, early on he was a prolific and successful composer of operas, instrumental and vocal works. The Much Ado About Nothing Suite (1920), adapted from incidental music Korngold wrote for the Shakespeare comedy, reveals his penchant for lyrical melodies and energetic rhythms.

Violinist Danbi Um performs in Erich Korngold's 'Much Ado About Nothing' Suite, for violin and piano, during the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth’s concert at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on Sept. 11.
Violinist Danbi Um performs in Erich Korngold's 'Much Ado About Nothing' Suite, for violin and piano, during the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth’s concert at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on Sept. 11.(Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)

Violinist Danbi Um and pianist Baya Kakouberi gave an impassioned account that at times felt overwrought. In the first and last movements especially, the piece called for a lighter, suppler approach to bring out its charming qualities.

Um and Kakouberi were joined by violinist and CMSFW 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 varied stylistic influences.

In an homage to Bach, the opening movement contains a prelude — delivered with bravura by Kakouberi — and a fugue with a darkly mysterious subject. Second movement waltzes redolent of Strauss were sensitively shaped. But both here and in the finale, turbocharged playing occasionally led to scratchy, ugly results.

The expansive spirit of the fourth movement Lied evokes orchestral adagios by Mahler. Um spun out delicate high notes with poetic introspection. The ensemble achieved pinpoint intonation in spare, wide-open sonorities, deepening their emotional impact.

Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Piano Quintet (1919) takes inspiration from French composers of the time, such as Fauré and Ravel. Though there are engaging moments, it is quite diffuse and evinces a dearth of strong ideas.

Along with violist Dmitry Kustanovich, the musicians from the quartet didn’t make a persuasive argument for the piece. The performance was definitely vigorous, but phrases frequently needed more direction. And lively passages were sometimes frantic.

Tim Diovanni, Staff Writer. Tim Diovanni is reporting on classical music in a fellowship supported in part by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. The News makes all editorial decisions.

tim.diovanni@dallasnews.com @howeyehearit
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