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Review: Basically Beethoven presents a lively program for winds and piano

Musicians from the Fort Worth Symphony and Dallas Opera Orchestra played with pizzazz and poetry.

There were times in past years when performances in the annual Basically Beethoven Festival, presented by the Fine Arts Chamber Players, weren’t quite as polished as you’d hear in main season concerts. This year, at least in the first two concerts, there’s been no compromise in standards. While the ensembles have been new, even ad hoc, they’ve evinced sophistication as well as skill.

On Sunday afternoon, at Moody Performance Hall, an enterprising program presented music for various combinations of flute, oboe, horn and piano. Coordinated by pianist Buddy Bray, known for his work with the Fort Worth Symphony and Cliburn, the musicians were principal players in the FWSO and Dallas Opera Orchestra. And there was an excellent prelude performance by a trio of high school musicians.

Bray rambled too much in spoken comments, but he played all five pieces with pizzazz where called for, great poetry elsewhere.


Flutist Helen Blackburn, oboist Gina Ford and Bray opened with a charming Trio by the 20th-century English composer — also pianist and actor — Madeleine Dring. That it could pass for some combination of French composers Francis Poulenc, Jacques Ibert and Jean Françaix is a compliment, not a criticism.

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Two works dipped back into 19th-century romanticism. From Franz Strauss, father of Richard and a virtuoso horn player, came an Op. 2 Fantasy on a Schubert waltz. Gerald Wood made it a fine demonstration of the horn’s varied expressive possibilities, by turns songful, heroic and nimble. Blackburn delivered a frothy Valse by the French composer Benjamin Godard, its waltz gussied up in runs and curlicues worthy of a bel canto opera.


The remaining two pieces of the program were by contemporary American composers. Jeffrey Agrell’s Blues for D.D. is thus titled because it was composed for oboist Diana Doherty. It opens with a ruminative unaccompanied cadenza, but then the piano joins in music alternately sultry and sassy.

At the end of the concert came the largest-scale piece on the program, Eric Ewazen’s Ballade, Pastorale and Dance, for flute, horn and piano. The opening Ballade ranges widely in moods and textures, at considerable length, with a feisty final section. The audience understandably thought the triptych was over and applauded. But there were two movements to come.

The music is appealing and well crafted, and it was very well played. But it reminded me of the legendary composition teacher Nadia Boulanger interrupting a student’s ever more sophisticated improvisation. Tapping him on the shoulder, she quietly said, “Why didn’t you stop when you were finished?”


In the pre-concert “Rising Stars” performance it was almost incredible that the three musicians playing Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio (K. 498) were “mere” high schoolers. But Nicole Johnson spun out the clarinet’s lines with warm tone and suave phrasing and Maanas Varma delivered the technically challenging viola part with impressive assurance. Pianist Melody Guo’s collaboration was as sensitive as it was sure fingered.

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