FORT WORTH -- The annual PianoTexas academy and festival at TCU is spotlighting the music of Franz Schubert this year. It would be hard to think of a more deserving and appealing focus. One of the undeniable greats, Schubert was a supreme master of melody, the creator of a whole series of masterpieces but, strangely, is somewhat neglected in the world's concert halls (though not in its vocal recital halls).
It used to be said that Schubert was a master of small forms, with the implication that he was a little bit at sea when trying his hand at works more substantial in length and weight. This idea must have arisen at a time when many of his compositions were unknown even to professional musicians. Not only the great C Major symphony but works such as his last three piano sonatas, the C Major string quintet and his mature quartets argue otherwise. It's hard to think of anything more artistically and emotionally weighty than the song cycle Die Winterreise, even if its individual parts are relatively brief.
Another argument in Schubert's favor is the two piano trios, in B-flat and E-flat, which were played in PepsiCo Recital Hall on Tuesday night. Tamas Ungar, executive director of PianoTexas, and Harold Martina of the TCU faculty divided the piano parts between them, while Arkady Fomin of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Jesus Castro-Balbi of the TCU faculty played violin and cello, respectively.
The B-flat trio is a work of flowing beauty and my personal favorite. Ungar's piano playing was full of grace and subtlety, and he was a well-attuned partner to Fomin and Castro-Balbi, who produced lovely sounds of their own. The slow movement was a particularly haunting collaboration between the three.
The E-flat trio was Schubert's favorite, according to the program notes of Stephen Seleny. It's a more adventurous work than the B-flat trio, with a mysterious, almost spooky slow movement that leads to a starkly contrasting scherzo followed by a lengthy, highly varied finale. Schubert's melodic genius is evident throughout.
In this somewhat heavier trio, Martina gave a dramatic performance that, like Ungar's, was well coordinated with those of Fomin and Castro-Balbi.
The tributes to Schubert will continue throughout the festival. Next up is solo pianist Inon Barnatan on Thursday, with the Sonata in C minor, D. 958, preceded by music of Claude Debussy, Thomas Ades and Maurice Ravel.