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Kirby Horton Hall was sold out well in advance for the last of twelve concerts of Duke Performances' "Music in the Gardens" series in the resplendent Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the campus of Duke University. This mixed program of solos, duets, and a piano trio drew upon faculty-artists from both the dark blue of Duke and God's sky blue, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Fred Raimi, cellist of the famed Ciompi String Quartet, was joined by his wife, pianist Jane Hawkins, and violinist Richard Luby, who has long been a leader of the early music movement in the Triangle. The announced performing order of the printed program was abandoned.
Sonata No. 2 in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 100, by Johannes Brahms (1833-97) opened the program. Melvin Berger, in his handy Guide to Sonatas, mentions this sonata's rarely used subtitle, "Die Meistersinger," because "the first three notes happen to be the same as the opening of Walther's 'Prize Song.'" Brahms' former student and friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg wrote the "whole sonata is a caress." Brahms said a number of his art songs went into the sonata; Berger lists six songs used. There is a typical autumnal atmosphere about the opening "Allegro amabile.” The most memorable movement is the second movement, which combines alternating "lyrical sections with lively dancelike interludes." (I was very fleeting reminded of the dumka used so famously by Dvorák.) The finale, "Allegretto grazioso," exploits the violin's lower range. Jane Hawkins' accompaniment was skillfully balanced despite the piano lid being fully raised. String instruments, especially in such hot and humid weather as we have had, can have "minds of their own" and unruly responses. This might explain fleeting episodes of scratchy tone during Richard Luby's otherwise fine playing. The second movement was given a most winning interpretation.
In the age of "Historically Informed Performance Practice," popular nineteenth century transcriptions of Baroque works rate as "guilty pleasures." Luby alluded to this before he and Raimi played a famous example, a "Passacaglia" by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) very freely arranged by Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935). The original hybrid was scored for violin and viola but it works just as well with the substitution of a cello. Luby and Raimi pulled out all the stops and really tore into the piece, tossing the ostinato bass line back and forth between them. Maybe there was too much abandon! The forward flow was briefly broken but the players quickly regained their composure.
Raimi turned in a finely-paced and -phrased performance of the First Cello Suite in G, B.1007, by J.S. Bach (1685-1750). His long experience with these masterpieces for the solo cello was revealed in every one of the six dance movements. His articulation was superb, and he produced a full, rich sonority.
It was rewarding that the artists chose Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 70/2, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) to end the concert. It is much less often performed than its mate, the "Ghost Trio." In contrast to the eerie qualities of that trio, Op. 70/2's four movements are dominated by a limpid, placid mood. The instruments spin out a subsidiary subject delightfully in the faster portion of the first movement. The third movement, a scherzo, features a wonderful singing theme followed by "a tit-for-tat dialogue" for the instruments. Hawkins, Luby, and Raimi turned in a very satisfying performance with a fine sense of the even give-and-take of chamber music. Their performance of the scherzo was especially delightful.