When we hear the words “chamber music,” we forget that its historic roots are literal. Originally played in the best room (or "chamber") of a home, chamber music is special because it’s created to feel intimate, a treat you share with close friends like a good bottle of wine.
In their first Houston recital appearance together, presented by Da Camera of Houston, violinist Christian Tetzlaff and pianist Lars Vogt will play a concert of four sonatas on February 16 at the Wortham Center, each uniquely private in their own way.
“When you’re playing (chamber) music, thinking and listening become the same activity, and I think the richness of playing chamber music is that you are responding very spontaneously and instantaneously to what your partner is doing,” says Sarah Rothenberg, Da Camera’s artistic and general director.
In this concert, audiences can watch how chamber music blossoms in the 20th century while staying profoundly personal. The program spans 140 years from Mozart’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in F Major (1781) to Bartók’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 (1922). Mozart's piece, for example, sounds clean, light, easy and the piano takes the lead more often than not. But with Bartók's work, those lines have grown fractured, complex and darkly beautiful.
“Certainly the Mozart and the Beethoven and the Schubert come out of worlds when chamber music was played in small spaces,” Rothenberg explained. “And the Bartók really does come with that tradition, but it…takes these traditional forms to the folk music of Hungary.”
Bartók, a pianist himself, was known for re-making the great classical standards into curious delights. His sonata will follow Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 in C minor—a well-known favorite for good reason.
If you watch closely, this kind of music is a thrilling quick-moving dance of ideas, a Shakespearean-level repartee. When Beethoven starts, watch the two instruments move from a unison line and split apart when the piano throws a phrase and the violin catches it.
“It’s faster than you can think,” Rothenberg said. “It’s real communication and feeling. It’s never exactly the same.”
Last on the program is Schubert’s Rondo in B Minor, perhaps the most virtuosic of the night. It moves and flows emotionally, but also challenges both performers technically. The Schubert is where this partnership shows its true colors: Both Vogt and Tetzlaff are established virtuosos in solo repertoire as well as chamber, which means that they have mastered flipping the tricky switch from diva to partner, from landscape sweeps to finite details that you can’t pull off alone.
“You work out the approach to the music you’re wanting to do, but you always keep the spontaneity in there,” Rothenberg told me. “What separates the good artists from the great artists is the discipline of spontaneity, that’s where you get the excitement of live performance.”
Vogt is a world-renowned pianist not to be missed, but Tetzlaff should be particularly out of the ordinary to watch. He has a reputation as an austere player who pays more attention to the purity of the line rather than to emotional extravagance—or what someone else might call cheap thrills. He’s both infamous and famous when it comes to this kind of music. Go hear him and decide for yourself.
$37.50—$67.50. Thursday, February 16 at 8. Wortham Center, 501 Texas Ave. 713-524-5050. dacamera.com