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The North Carolina Chamber Orchestra played a program at Well-Spring Community that spanned music from the 17th to the 21st centuries: from Pachelbel to Bartók and beyond. Leading the band of 14 musicians was director Paul Manz. Special soloist was flutist Laura Dangerfield Stevens.
Stevens was featured in two works: the three-movement Flute Concerto in G by Johann Joachim Quantz (Germany, 1697-1773) and the short Morceau de Concours (Competition Piece) by Gabriel Fauré (France, 1845-1924). Her playing of both was exquisite.
Quantz’s concerto is in the "Galant style," which emphasizes lightness and elegance. The three movements are in a fast—slow—fast arrangement. The opening Allegro begins, as is typical, with the orchestra playing before the soloist joins in; it is upbeat with lots of figuration and brimming with energy. Stevens negotiated the fast passages with flair and finesse. I believe I counted two cadenzas for the soloist, cleanly played. The middle movement, Arioso mesto (like a sad aria) contains drooping figures set in a minor key, and the soloist's tender playing was moving. The final Allegro vivace (cheerful and lively) was just that. Stevens' flute playing was wonderfully alive.
Ensemble was terrific between orchestra and soloist thanks to Manz's close attention to both. Stevens' intonation was first-rate. At the "harpsichord" (here, an electronic keyboard) was Susan Young, who provided harmonic and rhythmic support—to this listener, though, the synthesizer could have been louder.
Stevens again was in the spotlight for Fauré's Morceau de Concours, which was written for a solo flute as a sight-reading exercise for the Paris Conservatoire. This version, however, was arranged for orchestral accompaniment by Daniel Paget. Young was at the keyboard for this number as well.
This is primarily a lyrical piece, with a flute line that gracefully rises and falls, creating waves of sound. A winning vibrato and beautiful timbre were two hallmarks of Stevens' playing. Manz gently led the orchestra in its soft accompaniment.
Opening the evening was the 1788 Adagio and Fugue in C minor, KV 546 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Austria, 1756-91). This Adagio is an austere work, foreboding and dark. The NCCO immediately caught the ominous nature as it dove into the score. Moments of Mozartian beauty also appear along the way. The energetic Fugue, which begins in the low strings, serves as a wonderful counterpart.
Following the Mozart was Colloquy on "King's Weston" by Triad composer and cellist in the NCCO Margaret Petty. "King's Weston" is a hymn by Ralph Vaughan Williams (England, 1872-1958) setting the words "At the name of Jesus." This five-minute romantic gem employs many harmonies the composer himself could have written. After a dark introduction, the hymn tune is heard, with a lively middle section and a sustained ending, lovingly played by the ensemble.
Johann Pachelbel (Germany,1653-1702) is most famous for his ubiquitous Canon in D, which has been arranged for almost every instrumental combination. As conductor Manz explained, it is not that often performed in its original guise, the canon in four-part strings and an accompanying Gigue. The NCCO's playing was straight ahead, with the individual lines clearly coming through.
Béla Bartók (Hungary, 1881-1945) is justly known for his folk influences, and that is certainly true in his Romanian Folk Dances. Each of the six dances is about a minute long and provides a compendium of the Romanian vernacular: east-European scales accompanied by drones, and jerky rhythms. Some minor intonation and ensemble problems didn't deter a committed presentation. Concertmaster Dan Skidmore perfectly provided the solo melodies.
Serenade for Strings by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (Italy, 1876-1948) is a four-movement work, not often performed. The movements follow a fast-slow-dance-fast plan. The opening movement contains some quirky music, fun to hear. The Andante is lyric and has a bit of folk-feel to it. The Scherzo is a whirlwind with a contrasting Trio based on a repeated rhythm. The Presto finale is energetic and provides a fitting conclusion.
The acoustics in the Sutton Theatre are wonderful for this kind of ensemble. As Manz was thanking the Well-Spring community for their help and support, he said that it was the ensemble's favorite place to perform in the Triad. We look forward to more fine music-making from this ensemble in the future.