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The Tuesday night Faculty Chamber Series concerts take place in the Eastern Music Festival's largest weekly venue, Dana Auditorium, on Guilford College's lovely pastoral campus. Music lovers are encouraged to take full advantage of the general admission and to crowd as close to the stage as possible. The balcony, the sweet spot for orchestral concerts, was closed. This concert featured an imaginative and eclectic program that surveyed the mastery of players from almost every section of the professional Joseph M. Bryant Festival Orchestra which caps each weekend of the festival.
Quartet in G minor, TWV 43:g1, which opened the program, was one of six in the first set of "Paris Quartets" composed in 1730 for four French musicians by Georg Philip Telemann. Like Bach and Handel, Telemann composed a vast amount of music ranging across the areas of opera, oratorio, orchestral suites, and a lot of chamber music. Bach said, "Telemann could write a fugue as easily as most men write a letter." This learned skill is almost casually displayed in the second and third movement Allegros of this four-movement work. The opening Andante features a poignant theme and interesting episodes for each instrument in turn. The slower third Largo movement has a melodious pastoral quality.
The ensemble consisted of principal flutist Les Roettges, violinist John Fadial, cellist Beth Vanderborgh, and harpsichordist Eunhye Choi. Their playing seemed effortless with excellent intonation and spirited phrasing. The two fugal movements were fun filled with engaging give and take between the players. Choi provided a secure bass line "safety net" for her colleague's high jinks.
About Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), Virgil Thomson wrote that the French composer "was the greatest writer of melodies in our time." The witty Poulenc juxtaposes appealing tunes, a wide palette of tone colors, dazzling rhythms, and delicious dissonances. The composer's devout Catholicism was about the only element not heard in his pungent Sonata for Horn, Trumpet, and Trombone (1922) in three movements. The opening Allegro takes a cheerful tune through a series of buoyant dance episodes and shifting rhythmic patterns. In the Andante, a lullaby-like song is developed from material in the first movement and spiced with use of the minor mode and soft dissonances. The bright and breezy Rondeau animé combines dance rhythms to themes that sound like slightly off-key folksongs.
The musicians were Kelly Hofman (horn), Judith Saxton (trumpet), and Michael Kris (trombone), who played with great panache and considerable skill. Their agility and control of tone was marvelous and they brought out all of Poulenc's sense of fun, not least in the pungent and sassy finale.
There is a rich tradition in music of composers honoring the passing of one of their colleagues with a work. Mark J. Connor (1971-) composed his Elegy (2003) in memory of his first composition teacher Alfred Loeffler (1932-2003). It features Loeffler's instrument, the viola, joined by flute and English horn. A burnished viola solo opens the piece and its refrain is taken up by the two woodwinds. The rich colors and sonorities are explored before it culminates with gorgeous harmonics on the viola as it soars to the top of its range, as if, Connor observes "reaching toward the heavens." It would be difficult to imagine a more consummate performance than that of flutist Ann Choomack, violist Jamie Hofman, with Karen Birch Blundel on English horn. They and composer Connor received multiple curtain calls.
After intermission, Flute Quartet in C, K. 285b by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made for a charming opening. It exists in two versions with both sharing the same delightful Allegro first movement. K. 285b has an adaptation of the sixth movement from the composer's superb Serenade No. 10 in B-flat for Winds, K. 361. The Andante is a delightful and inventive set of themes and variations.
The able ensemble consisted of flutist Jonathan Baumgarten, violinist Ioana Galu, violist Sarah Cote, and cellist Amy Frost Baumgarten. Their intonation was flawless and they played with superb style.
An unlikely pairing of disparate instruments, a violin and euphonium, made for a fascinating and satisfying conclusion of the evening. Husband and wife musicians, violinist Jenny Grégorie and euphoniumist Demondrae Thurman, commissioned the piece from composer Patrick Schulz. The composer had written a piece for the couple to play at Schulz's own wedding. They asked him to expand it into what became a five-movement work on the theme of a marriage. Snapshots (2010) consists of five movements entitled "Cautious Optimism," "Light the Candle," "Little Children," "Remembering," and "Hopeful Reverie." The original wedding piece is retained in the second movement which depicts the unity candle of the ceremony. Delights of the third movement include atonal elements, abrupt dynamic shifts, and glissandi..
The couple controlled the balance very well. I had worried how well the juxtaposition of the relative power or volume of the two instruments would work out. The unusual harmonies and colors were remarkably entrancing.