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Concerts sponsored by Hendersonville Chamber Music feature local performers, and the NGU Chamber Players are from a neighboring county, just in a different state. They are faculty members of North Greenville University, South Carolina. Michael Weaver, the violist, is also Music Director of the Hendersonville Youth Symphony. The other members of the ensemble are pianist Fabio Parrini, violinist Leslie Taylor Warlick and cellist Brenda Leonard.
When all four players take the stage, they form a piano quartet, so the principal works on this program were two of the most important piano quartets of the romantic era, Robert Schumann's only Piano Quartet and Johannes Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 3. The Schumann was presented before the intermission and the Brahms at the conclusion of the concert. Piano solos began each half, and three movements from Ernő Dohnányi's Serenade for String Trio, Op. 10, were included before the Schumann.
Mr. Parrini is a sensitive pianist. He chose George Gershwin's Three Preludes from 1926 as the opening work. In the first prelude, he demonstrated that an Italian-born classical pianist can "lay back" like the best jazz piano players, delaying each note of the tune until just after the beat. The third "Spanish Prelude" reminds one of Xavier Cugat's influence on jazz. Parrini chose more twentieth-century music to open the second half. Toru Takemitsu's Saegirarenai Kyūsoku I (Uninterrupted Rest) is written without barlines. The three brief movements evoke emotions, including meanness and love. It was a pleasure to hear these novel works in concert, played with authority and depth of feeling.
Dohnányi's movements for String Trio are nowhere near in quality to the famous Dohnányi Piano Quintet No. 1 in C Minor. The performance added some interest, but this is an insubstantial early composition.
The Schumann Quartet is a sunny work in E-flat, filled with Robert's love for his great pianist wife Clara Wieck Schumann. The Brahms Quartet is a stormy work in C minor, filled with love for the same woman, but at a much later date. Brahms gives us the Sturm und Drang of a long unrequited love. The much younger (14 years) Brahms doggedly pursued Schumann's widow, who retained his friendship, promoted his music, but never accepted his love.
Much good can be said of the individual players from North Greenville University, especially Mr. Parrini and Mr. Weaver. But the ensemble has problems. Usually, the principal violinist is the group leader of a chamber group; in this case Ms. Warlick did not exert strong leadership and cues often came from Mr. Parrini. The cellist showed poor intonation on numerous occasions, especially in the first movement of the Schumann and the third movement of the Brahms. She was often behind the beat. During the Andante third movement of the Brahms, I was hearing chord shifts from the other instruments before I saw the cellist move her fingers to the new position. Since the speed of sound is much slower than the speed of light, this was something I have never before experienced with a professional group.
The program was well-chosen, there was much to commend all players for in terms of tone and musicianship, but I left unsatisfied. As now constituted, this group does not have the tight coalescence and common vision required for successful chamber music.