Psychological and musical facets of time were explored in a wide-ranging program in the UNCG School of Music's splendid Recital Hall on January 29. Programs at UNCG generally list the music and performers and omit notes, but there are often comments from a member of the faculty, and on this occasion the playful wit and keyboard facility of Gregory Carroll contributed to his multi-faceted exploration of each work's link with the theme of time.
George Gershwin, "who died before his time," composed an effervescent set of Variations, in D, on "I Got Rhythm." Using an unidentified arrangement for two pianos, in F Major, Paul Stewart (on the Kawai) and Joseph DiPiazza (on the Steinway) kept the ivories hot in this much beloved piece, sometimes bluesy, sometimes slow, and more often than not as rapid as possible, with trills and arpeggios aplenty.
The song literature of women composers has long been the specialty of soprano Nancy Walker and pianist Timothy Lindeman. She teaches voice at UNCG, and he is chair of the Music Department at Guilford College and a well-known critic for the News and Record and Triad Style . The husband and wife team's discovery on this occasion was "Beyond Time," a song cycle by Vally (Valerie) Weigl (1894-1937), based on the poetry of Frederika Blankner's Secret Bread . The Viennese-born American music therapist, composer and teacher was married to composer Karl Weigl. She taught as his assistant at Vienna University and later devoted much of her time to the preservation of her husband's musical legacy. According to New Grove II Online , her music has been widely performed and published. In his commentary, Carroll observed that the texts of this song cycle make more sense when heard sung, preferably with a glass of wine. This was an understatement, and alas this critic had neither glass nor bottle. The text was as challenging as anything by Gertrude Stein and was certainly not as simple as Blake or Poe.... All six settings made use of Deborah Egekvist's fine flute as well as the piano, which had its lid shut. Instrumental interludes broke up apparent stanzas in the printed program. The music itself is very pleasing, and Walker's firm and even soprano voice projected each poem with perfect clarity, but the songs' complexities would require repeated hearings to begin fully to grasp them. As Carroll had quipped, "with the composer being Viennese, she had to sound like either Schoenberg or Richard Strauss.... "You're in luck,' he said -- "it's the latter." Perhaps a grant could be used to get them recorded.
John Salmon's jazz arrangement of "As Time Goes By" by Herman Hupfeld was a hit with the larger-than-normal audience. Pianist Salmon started with a straightforward playing of the hit song from Casablanca and began to embroider it before it was taken up in turn by Steve Haines on double bass and Thomas Taylor on drums. Few at CVNC are qualified as jazz critics but this seemed to be quite a hot session. Each player had his chance to shine, cadenza-like, and the ensemble improvisation was on a high level.
Complete performances of Olivier Messiaen's Quatour pour le Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time) are rarer in the Triad than in the Triangle. With violinist John Fadial, cellist Brooks Whitehouse, clarinetist Kelly Burke, and pianist Andrew Willis, it received as fine a performance as any I have yet heard. Despite having the Steinway's lid fully up, Willis balanced with his colleagues perfectly. To the famous "Abyss of the Birds" movement for solo clarinet, Burke brought a wide dynamic range, soaring from dead silence with a perfectly graduated increase in volume. Her rich tone and color and beautifully held long notes and trills aplenty evoked the composer's beloved birds. Whitehouse and Willis were outstanding in the "Praise to the eternity of Jesus" movement, a sustained slow expatiation by the cello "with love and reverence on the everlastingness of the Word" (according to Messiaen's preface to the score), supported by repeated piano chords. Both Fadial and Whitehouse brought a wide kaleidoscope of tone color to their parts. The glassy muted harmonics and numerous "bird calls" of the first movement, "Liturgy of the Crystal," were particularly memorable.