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How many synonyms are there for autumnal, mellow, melodious, warm, and wistful? It is challenging to write a review of the splendid all-Brahms program that crowned the 2004-2005 season finale of the Classical Series in Pinehurst February 25 without too much repetition of such adjectives. The largest audience yet was on hand in Owens Auditorium, on the lovely campus of Sandhills Community College, to hear the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center play two beloved masterworks of the repertory, the youthful Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34a and a late work of the composer's fruitful "Indian Summer," the Clarinet Quintet in B Minor, Op. 115. The musicians were Ani and Ida Kavafian, who took the first chair in turn, violist Paul Neubauer, cellist Fred Sherry, clarinetist David Shifrin, and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott.
The later work, for clarinet, opened the program with Ida as first violin. All those adjectives alluded to above applied as Shifrin Company spun a seamless web of melody tinged with sweet melancholy and Brahms' reflections on life as the end drew near. The clarinetist's control and supply of air seemed endless. His ability to graduate dynamics and color as he blended and contrasted with the strings showed no limitations. The Kavafian sisters' long experience as a duo was evident as they matched each other note for note, phrase for phrase. Sherry's rich, dark cello tone provided a solid base, while violist Neubauer used a wide range of color, readily projected or subtly blended as the music required.
McDermott gave an effortless post-doctoral demonstration of how perfectly to balance a piano with strings during the more fiery Piano Quintet. She never covered her colleagues, even in the most driven and passionate passages. With lighter bow pressures, a broad range of string color is possible, and the textures were less monochromatic than is sometimes the case, especially in louder sections. The attacks were precise, the rhythms were well sprung, and the phrasing was beautifully matched throughout. The ensemble richly deserved the standing ovation it received. This was a superb evening of chamber music that was richly satisfying in every way.
The Pinehurst-Southern Pines based Classical Concerts Series, one of the few successful chamber music series in the state outside of the Raleigh-Durham area, was founded and lovingly nursed by Martha and William Hall, their board, and a few volunteers. It began in the charming Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines but quickly outgrew that intimate hall on subscriptions alone. With the 2005-6 season, the Moore County Arts Council will take over the series and return it to the Sunrise Theater. Music lovers may wish to renew their memberships, since single tickets will be long shots.