The ninth annual Keowee Chamber Music Festival began with an open working rehearsal at UNC Asheville’s Reuter Center on Tuesday, June 9 followed by four performances of “Program I,” music for flute, cello and piano. The locations were Spartanburg (SC), Greenville (SC), Burnsville and Asheville. I attended the concert given on a hot Sunday afternoon in the sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church in downtown Asheville.
As in previous years, Artistic Director (and flutist) Kate Steinbeck has generated interesting and innovative programs. Works by two twentieth-century American composers were interleaved with a classical piece and a French impressionist piece. Jan Nepomuk Hummel’s Trio for flute, cello and piano, Opus 78, led off the afternoon. Written in the form of a theme and variations, the work had some quite beautiful passages. Pianist Fabio Parrini established himself immediately as a fine collaborator, carefully voicing his piano pieces to complement the other instruments.
Robert Muczynski’s Sonata for flute and piano, Opus 14, was the next work. A number of Muczynski’s compositions are written for flute, clarinet or saxophone, and he appears to have a good grasp of the tonal potentials of these wind instruments. The flute sonata is a four-movement work that begins with an Allegro based on a crisp motif for the flute, playing against a syncopated piano line. After a short Scherzo, the third movement is a serene Andante, during which the piano laid back just a little, giving the movement a seductive quality. In the fourth movement Allegro con moto, there are places where the piano part verges on bitonality, with occasional unexpected modulations that establish themselves, in context, as being appropriate and even necessary. Throughout the piece there was a lot of rhythmic interest. Ms. Steinbeck and Mr. Parrini were fully in command, and gave the audience an introduction to a very pleasing work with a lot of depth. It would be good to hear more of this composer’s works played with the same assurance and authority that this performance gave us.
Cellist Philip von Maltzahn joined Parrini for Claude Debussy’s Sonata for cello and piano (1915), an eleven-minute piece with many opportunities for the cello to explore tonal colorations. In the first movement, von Maltzahn’s cello sang above Parrini’s thick bass chords which grounded the music. In the second movement, the cello simulated guitar coloration. The final short movement included cello glissandi and a brief cadenza, and concluded vigorously.
The final work on the program was the 1996 work Spirit Island by Philadelphia composer Andrea Clearfield. Written for flute, cello and piano, this two-movement work reunited Steinbeck with von Maltzahn and Parrini. The title refers to an island in Maligne Lake in Alberta’s Jasper National Park that can be reached by canoe. The first movement, “Variations on a Dream,” is ethereal and deeply spiritual. By contrast the second movement, entitled “Rowing,” is program music with the first and last sections evoking a brisk trip through choppy waters while the middle section calls to mind a tranquil stroll on the picturesque island. Having had the benefit of attending the working rehearsal during which the trio painstakingly put together their interpretation, I could appreciate the effort that went into putting together the angular syncopation, the hemiolas and accents, the open strings, the piano articulation, the harmonics and the coloration. The result was a performance that was definitive and authoritative. They made it sound easy.
Quiet encores are often a good idea. The three musicians performed the Andante movement from J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 5 in E minor for flute, cello and piano with admirable balance to conclude the afternoon.
The short festival will conclude next week with three performances of “Program II,” music for flute, violin, viola, cello and harp. Performances will be Thursday evening in Asheville and Friday morning in Waynesville, while the final performance will be on Sunday afternoon, June 21. This will be the traditional Father’s Day Family Concert outdoors at Pretty Place Chapel in Greenville County (SC). While not including contemporary American composers, next week’s concert does include the music of Albert Roussel, who is a very underappreciated composer, much too seldom programmed. In addition to providing fine collaborative playing, the Keowee Chamber Players provide a breadth of repertoire that is commendable.