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Chamber Music, Vocal Music Review Print

UNC and Duke, & Duke & UNC, & ...

September 26, 2004 - Chapel Hill & Durham, NC:

What could be finer that to be over at Carolina - and to find a bunch of Dookies there, too, sans face-paint? This happened for real on the evening of September 25, at the first of two events involving artists from both schools in concerts at both schools within 20 hours of each other. Both were free (although grumbling about UNC's antediluvian pay-for-parking policies was heard from at least one representative of the Association of Disgruntled Geezers). And while most attendees had no clue, in advance, how big the UNC program was, or who (beyond sopranos Terry Rhodes, of UNC, and Susan Dunn, of Duke) was involved in it, or what was being performed the next day, at Duke (CVNC gladly publicizes artists and complete programs, too...), both offered significant pleasures and considerable artistic stimulation.

The UNC event, dubbed "A Soirée at Choufleuri's - An Evening of Music from French Opera," was the formal entertainment for a three-day seminar centering on the latter subject, sponsored by Duke and UNC. The concert program was included in the symposium's booklet, a 17-page handout with schedules and abstracts that reveal the wide range of the international event's offerings, titled "The Institutions of Opera in Paris From the July Revolution to the Dreyfus Affair," but that omitted bios of the artists and texts and translations of the works performed. The hostess/mistress of ceremonies introduced the selections given, and the fact that the venue was the spiffily-done-up rehearsal room of Hill Hall, atmospherically lit, means that attendees probably couldn't have read texts anyway, but one would think (as we've said before) that educational institutions would.... Ah! What's the use? But since there were only about 40 attendees at the conference, and since the room was packed to overflowing (with extra chairs brought in at the last minute), there might have been some small point in providing better documentation....

There was some good news. For openers, Terry Rhodes is back from her medical leave, and she looks and sounds as good as ever. She was the Grand Duchess of sorts, playing Pauline Viardot-Garcia at the soirée, during which a substantial contingent of UNC voice students and faculty members - and the great American soprano, Mme. Dunn - and three pianists - gave a sort of dog and pony show featuring three excerpts from Offenbach's Monsieur Choufleuri [Cauliflower] restera chez lui lei... (Opérette-bouffe, 1 act, 1861), two each from Bizet's Les Pécheurs de perles and Gounod's Faust , and single bits, some of which were substantial, from Carmen (Bizet), Roméo et Juliette and Philémon et Baucis (Gounod), Lakmé (Delibes), Le Roi d'Ys (Lalo), and Werther, Herodiade , and Le Cid (Massenet). The student artists (whose voice types weren't called out in the program...) were sopranos Elizabeth Beal, Heidi Fisher, Vanessa Isiguen, and Melinda Whittington, mezzo-soprano Sarah Brindley, tenors Kevin Campbell and Jonathan Nussman, baritones Casey Molino Dunn and Brian Park, and pianist Jeremy Peterman. The faculty artists were sopranos Rebecca Putland and Rhodes, mezzo-soprano Barbara Ann Peters, tenors Timothy Sparks and Stafford Wing, and pianists Thomas Otten (UNC) and David Heid (Duke, partnering Dunn). Peterman did the lion's share of the playing, mostly for his young colleagues, but the best support (and the most integrated performances) involved Otten and Heid, seasoned keyboardists who watched their singers like proverbial hawks, ready to support or respond in split-seconds; although the singing - from all participants - was at high levels, throughout, chances are things would have been even better with more rehearsal time and the greater vocalist-pianist rapport that might have stemmed from it. Among the highlights were an attractively done duet from Pearl Fishers , a winning performance of the "Jewel Song" by a person who looked the part, excellent partnership in the famous duet from Lakmé, and a dazzling rendition of Charlotte's aria from Werther. The faculty singers did well, too. Sparks continues to mature nicely and grow as an artist and interpreter, UNC's great senior team - Rhodes and Wing - seems indestructible, and Peters and Putland clearly have what it takes to carry on the traditions of fine singing and teaching at UNC. Offfenbach's "Italian Trio," loaded with lines from other people's operas, was a riot (here, especially, texts would have been most helpful), and the put-on-airs, typical of public perceptions of artistes in general and prima donnas and tenors in particular, provided considerable amusement. Before the grand finale, which involved everybody, the last part of the show moved from Brindley to Wing (singing the "Aubade" quite wonderfully) to Putland to Dunn, whose magnificent voice (and artistry) crowned an altogeher impressive and enjoyable evening.

There was a somewhat different kettle of fish over at Duke on the afternoon of September 26 when, in the Nelson Music Room, UNC violinist Richard Luby teamed up with Fred Raimi, cellist of the Ciompi Quartet, and pianist Jane Hawkins, perhaps the hardest working and most consistently reliable pianist in the region, for a concert dubbed "Oh! Vienna." The bill of fare, as presented, was generous - Brahms' First Piano Trio (in its smaller-than-it-began revised version) and Beethoven's "Archduke" Trio (presumably no pun intended) were plenty, without the unspecified work by Schubert announced in advance publicity. (For the record, there were neither notes nor bios in the printed program.)

Luby came to UNC enflamed by the early-music movement and for years enriched our lives by giving regular performances with "A Society for Performance on Original Instruments" (later renamed "Ensemble Courant"). At one point he played the Berg Concerto with the UNCSO, and it was at once so atypical and so magnificent that we wondered if he'd missed his calling. Hearing him play in both styles, on HIP and "real" instruments (keep those cards and letters coming, sportsfans!) has provided a series of musical revelations ever since, and it was therefore a great honor (and treat) to hear him in concert with two mainstays of Duke's estimable musical establishment - not only because the two men, old friends who too rarely get to play together in public, are the senior string players at their respective institutions but also because the performances were among the most exciting and engaging we've yet heard from either of 'em. On this occasion, something truly extraordinary happened: it was as if their very lives depended on the music they were re-creating. They probably did - and do. Hawkins was quite miraculous, too, in her own right and in her own highly informed and supportive way. One must add that there were some minor problems here and there, including a delayed entrance at one point (deftly covered), but nothing impeded the performances, overall, and there was nothing that couldn't - or wouldn't - have been corrected in a repeat, if one had been planned. In both works, the artists were on the edges of their seats (literally in one case, figuratively otherwise), sharing and taking risks in the name of high art. The audience (or part of it, for sure) sat on the edges, too. Yes, Nelson was a great place to be on a beautiful fall afternoon. Here's hoping we haven't heard the last of this Duke-UNC partnership! Now if only we could do something about that darker shade of blue they seem to favor in Durham.