Just before the start of Saturday afternoon's performance for the Chamber Music Society of Fort Worth, pianist Katia Skanavi spoke a few words in tribute to Van Cliburn, who died Feb. 27.
It was a moving gesture, and, whether intended as such or not, the music-making that followed could be heard as a touching farewell to Fort Worth's most beloved musician.
Skanavi, who is Russian, got to know Cliburn when she played in, and reached the finals of the 1997 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She was an audience favorite, which may help explain the presence of a larger than usual audience at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth on Saturday afternoon.
She was an impressive artist at the Cliburn, and she is even more impressive now. Her performance of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat -- a work much heard at Cliburn semifinals through the years -- was fresh, gripping and moving.
Her partners deserve credit as well: violinists Emanuel Borok and Felix Olschofka, violist Susan Dubois and cellist Eugene Osadchy. Skanavi is too mature an artist to try to dominate a chamber performance. Her presence is strong when need be, but she's happy to move into a supporting role when that's called for.
The outcome was that the five musicians gave a subtle, fluidly paced, well-balanced performance that soared with melodic beauty and provided its share of thrills as well. A work such as the Schumann quintet can wear thin after innumerable hearings, but this time it soared.
Skanavi and Osadchy also soared with another performance full of personality. Prokofiev's Sonata for Cello and Piano, Opus 119, was alternately full of melodic beauty and downright playful, and enchanting throughout. One nice point about Skanavi's playing is that her piano's tone remained pleasant even during loud passages.
The middle work of the afternoon's threesome was a rarity: Beethoven's String Quintet, Opus 29, which bears the nickname "Storm."
Joining the previously mentioned string players was violist Misha Galaganov. This was another well-balanced performance that was strongly lyrical (thoughts of Schubert come to mind) but also rollicking in part. The title "Storm" obviously comes out of some ominous rumblings in the final movement; the previous movements are mostly balmy.