Chamber music is classical music at its most intimate and naked. With only a handful of musicians creating live, acoustic sounds in a small space, each sound is on display in high definition.
Last night, the Wyeth Quartet's performance, presented by the Dallas Chamber Symphony as part of its inaugural season, proved again that the Dallas City Performance Hall has just the acoustics necessary for this kind of intimacy. For too long, chamber music in Dallas has been relegated to spaces with less than ideal sound. In this smallish, acoustically alive space, every note sings.
A relatively small audience made the intimacy of the music even more palpable last night. There were many empty seats in the room, providing those of us who were there with the luxury of a semi-private experience. If you've ever heard a jazz quartet or solo guitarist play to a less-than-full coffee shop or bar, you know how vulnerable this dynamic between audience and performers feels.
The night began with Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 18, No. 2, a piece which highlighted this group's strengths and weaknesses. The Wyeth Quartet, led by Fort Worth Symphony concertmaster Michael Shih and comprised of principal string players from the same orchestra, is a cohesive group. Their ability to quickly toss melodies back and forth between players with seamless unity made the music captivating.
Unfortunately, because of the clarity of sound in the hall and the sparse texture of the music, any flat pitch or botched entrance was impossible to hide. Because each note takes such a long time to decay in this room, the first movement in particular felt like it could have used more space to breathe. But live music is never perfect, which is exactly why it's great. Who wants an airbrushed model when you can have the real thing, beautiful imperfections included?
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The most musically moving part of the evening was the group's performance of living Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's "Psalom" and "Summa." Violist Laura Bruton gave the audience a brief introduction to this minimalist, Gregorian-chant-inspired piece, which was helpful in setting the tone after the Beethoven (as well as letting the audience know when to clap).
The focus of Pärt's music is pure sound. As Bruton explained, it seems to exist outside of time. Without much melody or thematic development, these simple, short statements of tone leave space for reflection, and the communion between audience and performers last night was at its best during this piece.