Despite earlier heavy downpours throughout the Triad, there was a good turnout of music lovers in the James A. Gray, Jr. Auditorium within the Old Salem Visitor Center for the third concert of the Carolina Summer Music Festival. Founded by the Carolina Chamber Symphony, it consists of members of the Greensboro and Winston-Salem Symphonies, the UNC School of the Arts, and local freelancers. For this concert twelve players, mostly woodwinds and horns, supplemented by percussion and strings, were arranged in different configurations. The first and last work on the program was conducted by Peter Perret who prefaced their performance with germane comments.
Estonian born composer Arvo Pärt (1935) was initially influenced by the music of Soviet composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich before taking up the serial principles of Schoenberg in 1960. This was quickly dropped in favor of applying musical collages and quotations before he found his creative voice after a deep study of medieval and Renaissance composers such as Ockeghem and Josquin. Conductor Perret, in his comments on the wind octet version of "Fratres" (1977), called Pärt’s mature style “mystic minimalism” while the composer himself has called it “tintinnabulation” from the Latin word for bells. The original version was composed for string quintet and wind quintet. This performance was an octet version of 1990 (approved by the composer) by Beat Briner for pairs of oboes, horns, bassoons, and clarinets (one on bass clarinet) and percussion. An austere hymn-like theme of eight measures is played above a continuous drone on the interval of an open fifth. Over the eight repetitions, which include inversions, an extraordinary and fascinating tapestry of colors and harmonies is woven.
Perret and his players fully conveyed the rapt, almost hypnotic quality of this piece. The wind players, oboists John Hammarback and Anna Lampidis, horn players Joe Mount and Tim Papenbrock, bassoonists Saxton Rose and Marian Graebert, clarinetists Oskar Espina-Ruiz and Ron Rodkin, were joined by percussionist Beverly Naiditch. (During intermission Perret told me he corrected a wrong note in the printed score, an error which can be heard on Telarc CD-80387 Fratres, twelve versions).
Festival co-director and horn player Joe Mount referred to the popularity of Harmoniemusik, wind music to serve as background for indoor or outdoor entertainment by the nobility when he introduced Serenade No. 12 in C minor, K. 388 by W. A Mozart (1756-91). Most of his serenades are light-hearted, in over a half-dozen movements of which many are either dance or character pieces. Mozart is always serious when he composes in the minor keys and K. 388 stands out among his serenades for its darker mood and musical depth and having only four movements. While it is unknown for whom or exactly when it was composed, clearly its dramatic nature and sophisticated scoring, such as the canon and reverse canon of its third movement, means it was intended for a very sophisticated audience. It is effectively a symphony for wind octet.
The players: oboists Hammarback and Lampidis, horn players Bob Campbell and Mount, bassoonists Graebert and Rose, and clarinetists Espina-Ruiz and Rudkin, gave a beautifully judged and stylish performance without conductor. The drama of the first movement was strongly conveyed by the horns with some remarkable efforts from the bassoons. The give-and-take between players was as satisfying as that of an established touring string quartet.
The Serenade for Winds, Op. 44 by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was composed in two weeks in January 1878. Among other works he composed during the year was the piano duet version of Slavonic Dances. The foundation of cello and string bass lends a symphonic quality to the overall sound produced by wind group of pairs of oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, plus three horns. The composer had Brahms Second Serenade in A in mind when he filled his four-movement piece full of Czech nationalistic temper with a weighting toward the wind-instrument tone colors.
Conductor Perret stylishly led oboists Lampidis and Hammarback, clarinetists Espina-Ruiz and Rudkin, bassoonists Rose and Graebert, horn players Campbell, Mount, and Tim Papenbrock, cellist Jennifer Alexander Johnston, and double bassist John Spuller in a deeply satisfying performance. Tempos and balance were excellent and there was a marvelous sense of spontaneity throughout, especially the last movement in which successive returns of its polka-like theme can lose its sparkle. The close ensemble work of the three horns was especially impressive, not least in the third movement. The first movement’s march was homage to the sound of Mozart’s serenades while the second movement featured two Czech dances, the “sousedska” (similar to the Austrian “Ländler”) and the rousing “furiant” as its trio section. This performance was a constant delight from start to finish.