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On a Monday evening, before a so-so house, pianist Frank Pittman and violinist Carol Chung graced Carswell Recital Hall at Meredith College for another installment in the school's Steinway series, featuring music performed on and alongside the splendid keyboard instrument donated by Robert H. Lewis. This has led to a remarkable transformation of all things pianistic at the West Raleigh campus, as this short program of important sonatas in A major amply demonstrated.
Among the absolute highlights of the recent Mozart year were four programs by these estimable artists in which the 16 great sonatas of the master's maturity were played. The work that opened this latest concert, Mozart's Sonata in A, K. 526, for piano and violin (order of the instruments is significant), figured in the earlier cycle, having been given on January 23, 2006, but back then the "senior" instrument in Carswell was a Yamaha, so it was grand and glorious to hear the score again on the far superior keyboard that's in use there now. The performance was alternately brilliant and soul-searching — amazingly so, indeed, in the slow movement, which demanded close attention as it wended its magical way — and the response of the listeners was appropriately warm and enthusiastic.
After a brief pause there followed the great A Major Sonata for Violin and Piano of César Franck. This thing has turned up in more transcriptions and arrangements than just about any major work one can think of, and with good reason, for anyone seeking a late-romantic score drenched in emotion need look no further — yep, Franck, for all his late-life mass and his beard and such, still wore his emotions on his sleeve when he penned this piece in 1886, for sure. Chung and Pittman played it for all it's worth and a good deal more, negotiating the score's many challenges with awesome skill and bringing out the shifting moods admirably but without ever slipping beyond the bounds of good taste. The work began powerfully and ended that way, too, and in between came countless examples of technical and artistic mastery that once again proved that Chung and Pittman, together, are at the top of their game. That they are so remarkably compatible in interpretive terms, and that they are so sensitive to complementary phrasing and balance and tone color, makes for an absolutely wonderful partnership, too.
It's hard to fathom the paltry turnout, although the fact that this is the end of the term at Meredith might have had something to do with it. Still, with artists like these, playing music like this in such outstanding ways, and for free, and with a post-concert reception, too — well, it's hard to fathom!