It was an excellent day to be at the Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts district spending a hot Sunday afternoon listening to live classical string music. The auditorium was all but full for a performance of the Basically Beethoven Festival, a free admission series presented by the Fine Arts Chamber Players every Sunday in July. The first performance, titled “Rising Star Recital,” featured the violinist, 18-year-old Abigail Fuchs.
While Texas blues are best played by 85-year-old Texas blues men (and women) who evoke complex emotions based on their own lives of hardship and joy — in contrast, today’s performance by Fuchs of Piazzolla and Sarasate was perfectly fitting for a young gifted musician with the reflexes of youth and with the vigor and energy only the young have. Lively, exuberant, virtuosic are certainly words that come to mind. But neither works were casual or trivial music — each had depth and complexity — and the artist presented them with conviction.
The second half of the day’s music was an appropriate bookend, featuring Yuri Anshelevich, co-principal cellist for the DSO. The concert was billed as his final performance with the DSO, where he enjoyed a 38-year career. From the start, it was a remarkable contrast with the earlier young violinist: sparse, restrained, emotive and certainly slower, Anshelevich played maybe 1/10th the actual number of notes of his young counterpart. But these notes were deep and resonate with experience and emotion.
Each of the four pieces, Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms and Schumann, allowed the cellist to savor his notes and express then fully. This is not to say there were not episodes of noteworthy virtuosity and complex fingering and bowmanship. But together, the cellist and piano payed a much different program from Fuchs earlier in the afternoon.
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Appreciation needs to be given to the two pianists who played with the stringed players. Deborah Austin-Totter accompanied Fuchs with professionalism and restraint, allowing her to shine. Steven Harlos, the second of the cello and piano duo, was an admirable peer to Anshelevich and gave the piano parts their due, equal to Anshelevich and a true partner in the pieces.
Certainly the event was not perfect. Young Fuchs still needs to hone her stage presence and communicate with the audience rather than be absorbed in her own playing. I also found the selection of Anshelevich program to be problematic. At best, piano and cello duos are difficult to balance; it's a challenge to prevent the large grand piano from dominating. Often that was the case here. It was made worse because these pieces were not originally written for cello and piano, but were adaptations from other works. A cello can more than hold its own when a great composer creates a piece for a great cellist. But even the talented Anshelevich couldn’t shine as he should have in this situation. The latter two pieces, the Brahms and the Schumann, were the most successful — the cello and cellist were able to move and amaze the audience many times. But for his final concert, I would have preferred to see a remarkable cellist be front and center and not have to wrestle with a large resonate black piano.
This was one of the final concerts of the season by The Fine Arts Chamber Players. The next is Sunday, July 26. This Dallas-based group presents concerts throughout Dallas/Fort Worth and North Texas, often for free, as part of their mission to “enrich and enhance the quality of life for North Texas residents, especially families and children.” For more information, visit their website at www.fineartschamberplayers.org.