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In spite of the maternity absence of violinist Elizabeth Ivy, the Music House Piano Quartet filled the room with a program of challenging, cerebral (well, mostly), pure music. This is a local group, with playing worthy of international recognition.
Meredith Harris, native Tar Heel now resident in Houston, Texas, received a Bachelor of Music as well as Suzuki teacher training from East Carolina University and an M.M. in viola performance from Rice University. She teaches violin in Houston as well as playing with the Houston Ballet, the Houston Grand Opera, and the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra.
Chris Nunnally, Greenville native, B.M., magna cum laude, ECU, and J.D., New York Law School, performs and teaches in Greenville. He is currently the artistic director of the West Side Strings School.
John O'Brien, D.M.A., M.M., B.M., University of Southern California, is an honorary Tar Heel, having been on the faculty of East Carolina University since 1985.
Interestingly enough, all the music on this program was variant arrangements, but two of the three variants had strong composer sanction. Only the Beethoven Trio for Piano, Viola, and Cello lacked composer sanction, Beethoven having been dead five years before the transcriber, Ernst Naumann, was even born. The Trio is an arrangement from the Sextet for two horns and strings, Opus 81b. Naumann's arrangement seemed perfect for the intimate space of the Music House music room. The concertante writing would have put horns at a disadvantage in the space, but Harris' viola and Nunnally's cello were perfect – and perfectly played, too! The opening Allegro con brio is quite short, but the players poured themselves into the music. The Adagio begins with some very nice singing by the viola, soon joined by strong but delicate playing by the cello. The Rondo Allegro kept the audience spell-bound.
Seven duos: "Maypole Dance," "Menuetto," "Play Song," "Wedding Song," "Pillow Dance," "Grief," and "Ruthenian Kolomeika" were chosen from the 44 Duos for Two Violins by Béla Bartók (arranged for viola and cello by his son Péter); they were played without piano. I confess to a disconnect with Bartók that goes back to my high school piano lesson days. Every melodic line, every note of counterpoint, seems to go in just the opposite direction to what I am expecting or want to hear. I place no blame on Bartók – it's all me. And these were no different, even under the expert fingers of Harris and Nunnally. The "Menuetto" was typical, based on my reaction. "The Wedding Song" was hugely sad. "Grief" hits the nail on the head, evoking the "Dead March" in Saul. Quirkiest of all was the strongly ethnic "Ruthenian Kolomeika."
O'Brien mentioned at intermission that they all considered the upcoming Trio by Brahms to be challenging. This was Opus 114, Trio for clarinet, piano, and cello, with the usual substitution of viola for clarinet. The Allegro had masterful interlocking running scales, mastered completely by all. The Adagio had an amazing non-stop drive in both composition and execution. The Andantino grazioso and the final Allegro were demanding of both players and audience; successfully negotiated, they elicited an immediate, well-deserved standing ovation.