The hottest ticket in town every August for a decade has been one for the concert in the Kuhn Studio Gallery. World-renowned glass artist Jon Kuhn's gallery is the most truly scintillating venue in our state. To listen to great chamber music or a keyboard recital, in a space seating barely 100 and surrounded by the kaleidoscopic reflections of hanging and rotating glass sculptures, is sheer bliss! Kuhn has made his gallery available for recitals for nearly a decade, most recently for the Carolina Chamber Symphony Players enterprising Carolina Summer Music Festival. This concert featured the festival's two artistic co-directors, flutist Elizabeth Ransom and violinist Jacqui Carrasco, along with pianist Peter Kairoff. The latter two are faculty members of Wake Forest University. The musicians were featured as duos, trios, and soloists in four selections from the works of J. S. Bach.
According to the article, "Flute Sonatas and Partita" by Jeanne Swack in Oxford Composer Companion: J. S. Bach, the Sonata No. 2 in E-flat for flute and keyboard, S. 1031 is one of three attributed to the composer. Two manuscripts from Bach's circle are clearly copied from the same lost original source. Current scholarship believes it was derived from a Dresden trio by Quantz. It is easy going and its themes are immediately appealing but do not approach the rigor and sophistication of authentic flute sonatas (as defined in Johann Sebastian Bach: Neue Ausgabe Sämtliche Werke, 1954). The first movement features elegant, simple lines. The bewitching slow Siciliano is one of the most memorable among the flute sonatas. Themes of both instruments are constantly linked together in the lively finale in contrast to the first two movements. Flutist Elizabeth Ransom's playing combined grace and refinement with clear articulation and fine breath control. Pianist Peter Kairoff balanced his accompaniment perfectly, supporting the flute with a lower dynamic when its melodies were featured while boosting the piano's sound when its themes were spotlighted.
Kairoff preceded the next selection with comments drawing an analogy between sculptor Kuhn's layering of glasses and Bach's multiple layering of melodies. He and violinist Jacqui Carrasco played brief excerpts from the last of the four movements of their second selection, Bach’s Sonata No. 2 in A major, S. 1015. It was delightful to hear the same melody, or some modified version of it, being played simultaneously in his right and left hands and the violin.
The Sonata No. 2 in A is packed with all the complexity and rigor typical of authentic Bach. The opening movement has no designation but is usually given a pastoral character. The allegro features unusual pedal points and arpeggios for the violin. The serene third movement opens with a canon at the unison of the two melody voices and some impressive trills for both instruments. The main theme of the concluding "Presto" has a folk dance-like quality. Both Carrasco and Kairoff articulated their complex musical lines with great clarity. Carrasco's intonation was precise and her trills were exciting. Both were exemplary in laying bare Bach's wonderful contrapuntal lines.
Kairoff turned in a masterful interpretation of the Partita No. 2 in C minor, S. 826, one of six suites for keyboard the composer published under the collective title Clavier Übung. It is in six movements, an opening Sinfonia or Prelude, followed by four national style dances, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Rondeau. Unlike the other five suites, Bach concludes it with a playful Capriccio instead of a Gigue. Highlights of Kairoff''s performance were his clear delineation of the intertwining lines and rhythms of the French styled Courante and heart-felt slow Spanish styled Sarabande.
All three musicians joined to end the concert with Trio Sonata in G Major, S. 1039. According to Hans Vogt, in Johann Sebastian Bach's Chamber Music, this work is for two flutes and basso continuo and is identical to the Sonata in G major for Viola da gamba and Clavier, S. 1027. It was quite common in the baroque era to readily interchange the flute and violin. It is in four movements, a pastoral Adagio, a lively Allegro featuring a winning theme, inversions, and surprises; a unique Adagio requiring "absolutely homogeneous upper voices," and a deceptively simple but lively Presto. The give-and-take between Flutist Ransom, violinist Carrasco, and pianist Kairoff was delightful to see and hear. Musical lines, and especially counterpoint, were made very clear. The blending of color, tone, and phrasing in the slow movement was outstanding!
Kuhn's glass sculptures were not confined to the perimeter or walls of the gallery or the stunning giant "icicles" floating like a chandelier above the Bösendorfer piano. The famous piano company was founded in 1825 in Vienna, Austria. John Kuhn is the first artist to be allowed to "decorate" one of their instruments. His first "million dollar" model is described on the company website under "Design your own piano." Kairoff played Kuhn's third model for this concert.