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Chamber Music Review Print

Variety Adds Spice to Chamber Concert

July 21, 2009 - Greensboro, NC:

Tuesday night’s Eastern Music Festival Carnegie Chamber Series concert, featuring the EMF faculty, was a veritable smorgasbord of music delights.  The widely disparate program included two compositions by Americans, one by a Belgian, and a work by a German, ranging from the early 1800s to the 1980s.

Harpist Ann Choomack and flutist Anna Kate Mackle’s solid performance of Vincent Persichetti’s 1957 Serenade for flute and harp was a delight. This eight-movement composition lasts less than 15 minutes, but explores many of the possible relationships between the two instruments.

The opening dirge-like Larghetto serves as an example, where a sturdy rhythm is presented by the harp, to which the flute responds with short statements. In the course of the work lyricism sometimes takes the front seat, and other times dance rhythms become prominent. Choomack’s accurate and firm playing provided a great backdrop for Mackle’s more melodic flights of fancy.

William Grant Still’s Little Folk Suite from the Western Hemisphere No. 1 (1960) is a four-movement collection of folk songs arranged for string quartet. This is an altogether pleasing version of several African-American tunes, including the most famous final “Wade in the Water.”  David Yarbrough and Jennifer Rickard (violins), Diane Phoenix-Neal (viola) and Beth Vanderborgh (cello) gave the 6-minute work a tender and warm reading. Almost all of the tunes are given to the first violin, and Yarbrough’s strong playing and leadership were evident from the outset.

Great fun was found in Thierry De Mey’s 1987 composition Musique de Table (“Table Music”). This Belgian composer is as much a choreographer as musician, so percussionist Eric Schweikert explained in opening comments. Indeed much of the delight in hearing this piece is observing the hands of the three percussionists who perform the work on three small wooden tabletops. Joining Schweikert were John Shaw and John Feddersen.

All three played the piece with a lot of theatrical flair, even in the dramatically humorous turning of the pages of the score.  It is really amazing to hear the incredible number of sounds that can be made with only hands and a piece of wood — fingernail swipes, hand flips, knuckle knocking, clapping, taps with stiff fingers, hands cupped — these were only some of the techniques used by the six hands. Sometimes all three played the same rhythm, but often two would provide the “accompaniment” for a solo from the third, and there were passages in which all three musicians played contrasting material, only to come back together in perfect synch. From complicated counterpoint of taps to a more lilting pace, the three performers made great music throughout this enjoyable 7-minute work.

Beethoven loved the key of E-flat major, and he cast some of his greatest works in this tonality. Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”) and Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”) immediately come to mind, but there is also the Piano Quintet, the Septet, and the final composition on Tuesday night’s program. Beethoven’s Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 70 was published in 1809 and shows a man who has come to terms with his hearing loss and who has already “proven” his worth as a composer. This four-movement masterpiece was strongly performed by Catherine Cary (violin), Neal Cary (cello) and Gideon Rubin (piano).

The distribution of music material to all three instruments reveals a total integration. Each player gets innumerable moments in the spotlight. The piece opens with a slow introduction that gradually gives way to a graceful Allegro. The second movement is a lovely set of variations that rocks back and forth between the major and minor modes. The third is a minuet with two trios. The finale provides for an impetuous conclusion, but it also contains short reflective passages for each instrument.

All three musicians played forcefully, carving out distinct musical personalities and interacting with each as if the three were engaged in a conversation; this is how chamber music is supposed to be. C. Cary’s violin playing was first-rate. Intonation and timbre were right on, and she provided both impassioned and gentle lyricism. N. Cary’s cello provided a solid base for the three, and when it was his turn to take on the musical action, he dove in with gusto and sensitivity. Rubin’s playing was brilliant. His assertive musical presence was especially noticeable in the finale, where he is given rushing scale passages and music brimming with bustling figures.