One of the joys of chamber music concert going is the variety of music that falls under the aegis of musica da camera. This intimate art form basically began with Haydn, was picked up by Mozart and under Beethoven’s genius it evolved into an experimental medium with any imaginable combination of instruments. Every now and then you hear a concert that fits your spirit with exactly what you need at that time. Such a concert it was my good fortune to hear as one of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild’s Sights and Sounds series being held this season at a variety of locations while the NC Museum of Art is going through its major renovations. This concert was at the sixties period Holy Trinity Lutheran Church with its unique eye-catching stained-glass windows and featured Symphony Winds: Mary Boone, flute, Michael Cyzewski, clarinet, Michael Schultz, oboe, Victor Benedict, bassoon and Rachel Niketopolous, horn, with guest artists Judith Bruno, Soprano and Catherine Cameron Hamner, piano.

The program began with Partita for Wind Quintet by Boston-born American composer Irving Fine. Fine studied composition with Walter Piston at Harvard and with Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau School of Music in Paris. The opening movement of this piece, Introduction and Theme, put me immediately in touch with a treasured old LP of woodwind quintet music by Milhaud, Ibert and Hindemith. The French influence was unmistakable – lively buoyant music, experimental harmonies, counterpoint weaving around melodic input from all five instruments and just a hint of jazz influence. The following movements followed pretty much in this same vein. The Interlude was an intense harmonic study, a little slower than the rest. The Gigue was a joyful, busy dance with each instrument seeming to have its own comment to make. The coda had a bit more somber flavor to it and ended with a quiet horn solo being passed to the clarinet to end on a quiet cadence.

To be Sung Upon the Water by Dominick Argento (b. 1927) reflected his fascination with the sound possibilities of different clusters of instruments in small ensembles and his skill at composing sensitive settings of complex, sophisticated texts. He has also composed fourteen operas, orchestral works, and many choral pieces. In this instance, for his setting of poems and sections of poems by Wordsworth, he chose a soprano, a clarinet and a piano. This brilliant performance was dedicated to the late Don Wilder who brought together Bruno, a soprano with vibrant warm color and an impeccable sense of pitch and her husband, clarinetist Cyzewski, whose timbre over the entire range of the instrument was remarkably rich and precise. Pianist Hamner, at home with the piano, added her own excitement, expressiveness and highly developed musicianship to the mix. Each instrument – keyboard, clarinet and voice added unique contributions to a deeper understanding of these eight poems. The cycle opens with a description of things one might see and perceive gliding along in a boat on a lake. The next two songs envision the tranquility of the water in the evening and the sounds of music over the water.  The fourth song, “Fair Is The Swan,” is a striking description of a swan using just voice and clarinet. Next, “In Remembrance Of Schubert,” composed for piano and voice, uses calm and serene polytonality to provide an awesome evocation of the master of the art song. A prayer for safety through the turbulent rapids is followed by a calm reflection of “The Lake At Night.” The Epilogue: tagged by Argento as “De Profundis” is a setting of the familiar Wordsworth sonnet that begins “The World is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…” It was the most dramatic of the set musically and gave all three artists challenges and opportunities to shine in full voice.   

Choro No. 2, a sort of Brazilian street serenade for clarinet and flute by Heitor Villa-Lobos, was performed by Cyzewski and Boone. It was a little bit of fun, nicely played.

After a brief stretch break, the wind quintet returned to perform Samuel Barber’s Summer Music, Op. 81. The sights, sounds and sensations of summer were envisioned in Barber’s music even as the temperature outside on this Fall day went down as the day progressed.

Born in 1925, the son of a violinist with the New York Philharmonic, studied at the Saint Thomas Choir School, a prodigy french horn player at age 15 playing professionally with the American Ballet Theatre, principal hornist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1943–45) and Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (1945-59); and recording with Miles Davis (1949-50); these are just the early career highlights of the versatile and eclectic Gunther Schuller (b. 1925). On this program we were privileged to hear his Suite for Woodwind Quintet. The outer two movements of the three movement work were rhythmically unrestrained with plenty of counterpoint and action, perhaps reflective of Schuller’s association with The Modern Jazz Society (he was co-founder). The middle movement was unabashed jazz, reminiscent of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was classy and fun.

The concert concluded with Aires Tropicales (one more desperate attempt to hold on to a little more summery weather?) by the young Cuban saxophonist and composer Paquito D’Rivera (b, 1948). The four sections: Alborada, Vais Benezolano, Habanera and Contradanza were upbeat and exhilarating, full of tricky rhythms, a taste of Cuba and extraordinarily challenging to play (especially the second one).

This was a perfect concert for those who were wide awake; well-rested on this first day after the time fell back one hour over night and ready to get with it, which this audience did.

RCMG will next feature the Tokyo String Quartet in Fletcher Opera Theater on November 15. See our calendar for details.