We haven’t gotten well acquainted with our new North Carolina Museum of Art yet, so it was a welcome experience to join the docent led pre-concert tour of program-related paintings. And it is always a pleasure to hear the wonderfully varied Sights and Sounds Series of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild in the museum auditorium. On this occasion, the featured artists were the Mallarmé Chamber Players, who preserved the high quality of the setting, the series, and the performing artists.
The program, titled “Music and Visual Art: How One Inspires the Other” began with Alberto Ginastera’s Duo for Flute and Oboe, Op. 13, composed in 1945. Pam Nelson, flute, and Bo Newsome, oboe, carried on convivial conversation, bickering, and mellow togetherness. The piece, cast in neoclassical form, includes three movements: Prelude, Pastorale, and Fugue. The Prelude is a two-part invention that had the spirit of Bach in 20th-century garb. The Pastorale is a lovely simple melody passed back and forth, expanded in surprising ways and sweet in its harmonic development. The Fugue is lively and playful, a tour de force of elegant sprightliness.
The Tiger's Ear: Listening to Abstract Expressionist Paintings (2004) for flute, oboe, violin, viola, cello, and piano, by American composer, music scholar, and author of several books, Bruce Adolphe, is a suite of six pieces evocative of six artists in the field of abstract expressionism: Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, and Willem de Kooning. The performing artists were Nelson and Newsome, along with Jeremy Preston, violin, Suzanne Rousso, viola, Lisa Shaughnessy, cello, and Thomas Warburton, piano. The suite was visually enhanced by a sample of each artist’s work projected on the wall during each of the movements. The music for the paintings reflected shapes, textures, colors and moods seen in the artists' works and left this reviewer with a sense of the inadequacy of words to describe the experience of either. It had to be seen and heard to be fully appreciated, but I assure you it was an exercise in sensual and emotional adventure.
Closing the program was the luxuriant Piano Quartet No. 1 by Gabriel Fauré. It was only after Saint-Saëns had founded the National Music Society in 1871 that French composers began to pour out the wonderful chamber works that flourished in the late 19th century. Fauré composed his first violin sonata in 1875-76 and worked on the Piano Quartet from 1876 to 1879 with the first performance occuring in 1880.
The Piano Quartet, performed by Preston, Rousso, Shaughnessy, and Warburton, is titled as being in C minor, which is accurate but somewhat misleading. Fauré was experimenting with medieval modes and chant melodies and most of this piece is actually in the Lydian mode or is at least biased in that direction. The first movement is full of energy and lyricism. The Scherzo is playful and an ideal set-up for the great Adagio, in which we hear a passionate melody rise from the cello to the viola to the violin against warm arpeggio chords in the piano. The soaring final movement makes the most of the Lydian sonority with hints of forward motion toward modernism.
It is always a great pleasure to hear this work and the Mallarmé Chamber Players were generous with their superb artistry in this performance.
This was the last concert of the RCMG’s 2009-10 season. It is a good time to check out next year’s pleasures and plan to take part in them. For the complete schedule, click here.