William Hoyt, Music Director of the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival, was inspired when he planned this program. Mixed fare (by François Devienne and Bohuslav Martinů) and a “dessert” by Anthony Plog came before the intermission; then the main course (Beethoven’s Opus 74 string quartet) after the break. It worked like a charm at the Waynesville Performing Arts Center on Sunday, with an audience of about 90 attentive and appreciative throughout. The concert will be repeated at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa on Tuesday evening.
One reason for neglect of secondary composers is that “The best is the enemy of the good.” François Devienne is a good composer, while obviously his contemporary Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the best. It is easy to program a Mozart divertimento; the audience knows what to expect. It takes creativity to schedule Devienne’s “Sonate en Quatuor,” a piece written for the unusual combination flute, French horn, viola and piano. The three-movement piece begins with a somewhat uninspired Allegro, but the short Adagio is touching and the jolly and spirited Rondo is a highly satisfying conclusion. Inessa Zaretsky played the demanding piano part with her usual collegial skill. George Pope, flute, William Hoyt, horn, and Melissa Reardon, viola, were the other players.
Bohuslav Martinů’s “Trio for Flute, Cello and Piano” is structured like a classical piano trio, but with flute replacing the violin. Again, as with the Devienne, I found the first movement less inspiring than the other two movements. The Adagio, in particular, was wonderful. It reminded me of Leoš Janáček’s string quartet “Lettres Intime,” except Martinů mixes his native Czech sensibility with an acquired French sentiment. George Pope and Richard Belcher gave us an able rendition of Martinů’s wonderful romantic dialog between flute and cello, again ably assisted by Ms. Zaretsky.
Dessert came next: the very amusing (and at the same time very well composed) Aesop’s Fables by the contemporary American trumpet player and composer Anthony Plog. Written for French horn and piano with narrator, five of these fables were performed by William Hoyt and Inessa Zaretsky with George Pope as the very important narrator. Plog has rhythmically linked the narration to the instrumental music so that the stories are being told simultaneously by music and words. (This explains why Opera America describes the Fables as mini-operas.) The audience was delighted and spontaneously applauded the morals at the end of each of the five familiar fables.
The Enso String Quartet (Maureen Nelson, John Marcus, Melissa Reardon and Richard Belcher) took the stage for the second half. They performed Beethoven’s Opus 74 string quartet, dubbed the “Harp” by its publisher because of the several pizzicato passages. The New York-based Enso Quartet has been together since 1999. Their performance of the second movement Adagio ma non troppo shows how they have matured into an impressive rapport; their mutually-felt sense of rubato in this movement had them moving as though with a single mind. Before the work began, Ms. Nelson had described the piece as being from Beethoven’s “Middle” period which produced “Heroic” works such as Symphony No. 3 and the “Razumovsky” quartets, but also gave us quieter works such as this one. The third movement Presto, however, was anything but quiet. The Enso managed the furious counterpoint in what could only be described as a “Heroic” manner. This was the whole package; Beethoven was delivered with virtuosity and insight. Most satisfying.