Raleigh's answer to the Mallarmé Chamber Players, long a vital component of Durham's arts scene, is the Free Spirits Ensemble, fielded by composer and pianist Lanette Lind, members of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, and occasional guest artists. On the busy afternoon of October 30, Lind and her colleagues presented a generous program of chamber music in Carswell Recital Hall before a distressingly small audience. Here's hoping the sponsors will not be discouraged by the turnout – the MCP began on a wing and a prayer, too, in the old ballroom of the Carolina Theatre.
The concert was richly varied in terms of forms and instrumentation although much of the program seemed cast in a similar mood. Things got underway with the somber Suite for Clarinet and Piano, by Richard Faith (b.1926), played with remarkable skill and dexterity by Jim Williams and Lind. Their partnership was secure, and as we've noted in other reviews, Faith's music is immediately appealing. So, too, is music by Lowell Liebermann (b.1961), and it was a treat to hear RSO Manager Irene Burke, whose performing skills are kept sharp in the Raleigh Area Flute Association and elsewhere, play it, accompanied by Lind. Indeed, it was so engaging that it was a shame that the entire piece – parts of which are said to be treacherous – was not given.
Guest composer Hilary Tann was featured next. The Welsh-born US citizen currently chairs the Department of Performing Arts at Union College (Schenectady, NY), and her music has been heard here previously – violinist Corrine Cook premiered "Here the Cliffs" with the NC Symphony in 1997. On this occasion, the bill of fare consisted of "Cresset Stone" (1993), originally for solo violin but performed this time by violist Yang Xi, whose rich tone and expressive playing brought the score to vibrant life. It's a dark, mystical work that draws in its listeners, thanks surely to its creator's Welsh heritage. But it's America that suffuses "Nothing Forgotten," a new piano trio that received its southern premiere at the hands of Lind, Izabela Cohen, violin, and Jane Salemson, cello. The three-part work has unusual movement titles that speak to their respective inspirations – the first movement is "as if the granite were some half-forgotten spirit" – and the score is a winner, packed with folksong-like melodies presented with great ingenuity and skill. "Nothing Forgotten" was radiantly played with infectious spirit that matched its requirements, and the artists – and the composer – were warmly applauded. (Tann also appeared at Quail Ridge Books the night before this concert.)
Part two began with Lind's "Moments," a commissioned work for violin, viola, and piano that might count as a trio but is in truth more of a series of string pieces – solos and duos – with piano accompaniment. It's attractive and appealing, and it sizzled. Lind's premiere, "Follow Me," is for the same instrumentation. I'm not sure it's a trio in the conventional sense, but it's loaded with tuneful melodies that are tossed back and forth between the string players, and portions of it are quite powerful. Lind is a fine creator, and no two of her works sound alike, so it was a special pleasure to hear these dissimilar scores for like instruments played back-to-back.
Cohen and Lind then gave an encore performance – always welcome in "new music" – of Villa-Lobos' Sonate-fantaisie No. 1, titled "Désespérance" ("Despair") (1913), heard earlier this season on the Free Spirits' opening recital. This led to the concert's final work, the Fantasy Trio, Op. 26, of Robert Muczynski, composed in 1969 for clarinet, cello, and piano. It's a much knottier and spikier score than the other works on this program, and it commanded attention as played by Williams, Salemson, and Lind. (Readers may hear a portion of this trio at the website of our colleague and friend Walter Simmons: see http://www.walter-simmons.com/muczynski/muczynski.htm [inactive 1/08].) It would be good to hear the Muczynski and the afternoon's other works again, and this time, we're in luck, because most of the program will be repeated on 11/13, in Cary – check our calendar for details. It will be interesting to see if the Town of Cary can muster more people for an all-contemporary chamber music program than the City of Oaks did.... There are many reasons to attend these programs, not least of which is that they afford opportunities to hear outstanding individual members of the RSO in solo and small ensemble roles.
For remaining Free Spirits Ensemble concerts this year, click here.