Some years ago, I saw a hunt club riding horseback and dressed in their "pinks" in the Pinehurst, so I had hoped that the horn in the Fleischer-Jolley-Tree-O, which appeared on December 1 in Owens Auditorium on the Sandhills Community College campus, might have brought some uniformed sportsmen to the audience. It did not, but there were a number of rarities or uncommon aspects about the concert. Outside of eclectic chamber music series such as those at the Eastern Music Festival or Spoleto Festival USA, scores featuring the horn are seldom encountered. Horn virtuoso David Jolley has made a number of fine recordings and is currently on the faculty of the North Carolina School of the Arts. Michael Tree, on records and in concert, is best known as a violist with the Guarneri String Quartet; this concert found him exclusively in the role of violinist. Music lovers of a certain age have long treasured the Beethoven and Brahms piano concerto recordings made by Leon Fleischer with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. His career was interrupted midway through the 1964/65 season by the onset of a debilitating ailment affecting his right hand, later diagnosed as repetitive stress syndrome. For thirty years he has devoted his musical career to teaching, to conducting, and, eventually, to the left-hand alone piano literature. Since 1995, he has been able to resume using both hands. Such a recovery is very rare.
The "Tree-O" dropped from the printed program three short works that would have featured each as a soloist. Instead, they presented the remaining three works that they would play later in the week on the Metropolitan Museum of Art series in New York City.
Nineteen-year old Schubert composed three sonatinas for violin and piano in 1816. The least performed and most "romantic," No. 2, in A Minor (D.385), opened the concert. Despite having the piano lid fully raised, Fleischer was the consummate accompanist, never covering Tree's finely spun melodic line. The wide leaps in the violin part in the first movement proved to be no barrier to his agile technique. Those leaps illustrated what Abram Loft, in Vol. II of Violin and Keyboard : The Duo Repertoire , calls "facets of a continuously growing and diminishing melodic line."
Beethoven composed his Sonata in F Minor, Op. 17, for his favorite horn player, Giovanni Punto, and himself. This is unabashedly a showpiece meant to revel in the possibilities of the horn that Punto revealed to the composer. What a rare treat it was to have such a distinguished Beethoven expert, Fleischer, take the piano part! Jolley brought a wealth of color and mastery of phrasing to the horn part. His breath control, held notes, runs and flexible dynamics were phenomenal. This work deserves to be heard more often.
One of the glories of chamber music for the horn, Brahms' Trio in E-flat, Op. 40, closed the program. The composer began the trio in the spring of 1865, just months after his mother's death. Brahms' biographers Max Kalbeck and Richard Specht believe this traumatic event affected the choice of horn instead of cello as Brahms sentimentally recalled his childhood studies of the instrument; they interpret the melancholy slow movement as an elegy to his mother. Likewise, the composer's derivation of the finale from the German folk song "In der Weiden steht ein Haus" ("In the Meadow Stands a House") is another childhood reference. Brahms specified the older, valveless Waldhorn, but almost always the modern horn is used, as it was on this occasion. Unlike other works by the composer, the first movement's first theme, graceful and flowing, and its second, slightly faster and agitated, are alternated instead of being developed. The scherzo echoes with the spirit of the hunt. The sad and contemplative slow movement introduces the folk song near the end, and it bursts forth as the exultant theme of the rousing finale. Jolley's total technical control of his instrument was amazing, not least in sotto voice passages, as was his ability to sustain a smoothly flowing melodic line. Fleischer and Tree brought equally expressive musicianship to their parts. This was by far the best balanced and most deeply felt performance of this work I have heard to date. Chalk up another winner for the enterprising Pinehurst series.