The first two week nights of the Eastern Music Festival are devoted to chamber music featuring festival faculty and guest artists. The venues vary, so the new feature of this season’s program book, a page of maps of city-wide performance locations, is most welcome to visitors. The fine UNC Greensboro School of Music Recital Hall was well filled by area music lovers and a bevy of eager festival students.
Because of late eighteenth-century practice, scores of violin sonatas are designated “for piano and violin” instead of the expected “violin and piano.” This older labeling persisted past Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas and is used for Mozart’s Sonata in C, K.296, which opened this concert. It was composed March 11, 1778 in Mannheim, Germany as part of what the composer labeled “Opus 2.” This was the first of his “mature sonatas” for violin and is historically important for giving the violin what Melvin Berger, in Guide to Sonatas, calls “a role of both substance and importance.” It is in three movements, two fast ones sandwiching a lovely slow movement marked “Andante sostenuto.” The performers were violinist Jeffrey Multer, concertmaster of the festival’s professional orchestra and director of its chamber music series, and pianist James Giles, a native of High Point who is a long time festival faculty member, and who performs internationally. Balance between the players was excellent even though the Steinway’s lid was fully raised. Their phrasing was stylish and excellent, and Multer’s intonation was excellent.
It was a real treat to hear an exciting performance of Sonata for violin and cello by Maurice Ravel. It was composed between 1920-22 and was dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy. As reported in Berger, Ravel said it was a “turning point in the evolution of my career.” He avoided the “lush, opulent harmonies” and used instead “melody, quite often harsh, stark, and uncompromising melody” with a distillation to essentials taken to extremes. It is in four movements. The cello states a sustained melody at the opening while the overall movement has a modal feel. Each instrument is in separate keys in the trenchant, vivacious second movement with a striking contrasting section of bowed and vigorous plucked passages for the violin. The third movement starts serenely but soon features both instruments in a clamorous argument. This is carried over into the finale in which a swift-paced theme with frequent changes of meter is contrasted with a second one in the style of a Hungarian folksong which emphasizes color and rhythm. Violinist Matthew Albert and cellist Julian Schwarz played the socks off this duo, turning in a blazing performance and giving full value to its wide palette of color and eerie harmonics. They richly deserved the prolonged, standing ovation.
The Piano Quartet in A, Op. 26 of Johannes Brahms is much less often heard in performance than is his first piano quartet, Opus 25. He began composing both during 1857 in Detmold, Germany and completed them in the fall of 1861. They differ in scope and character but complement each other. Opus 26 is in four movements, two rich-textured allegros sandwiching a slow movement and scherzo that gives somewhat more scope for the strings set against long rests for the piano. The opening theme is very memorable and Brahms makes much of rhythmic tension from unexpected accents. The gorgeous and haunting slow movement is followed by a subtle scherzo setting a flowing melody in the strings against a lilting keyboard tune. The finale is one of the composer’s rousing, syncopated folk-dances.
The performers were pianist William Wolfram, violinist Jeffrey Multer, violist Daniel Reinker, and cellist Mark Kosower, the guest artist who is currently principal of the Cleveland Orchestra’s cellos. Wolfram’s sculpturing in sound of the opening theme was simply superb and he brought the perfect amount of gravitas to the keyboard throughout. Balance between strings and piano was excellent. The strings produced a rich, romantic sound in the outer movements while giving strongly characterized and intimate performances in the middle two movements. This was a very satisfying performance.