It's a well-kept secret that some of the best music to be found hereabouts is presented at our institutions of higher learning - and that most of these concerts are free. There were two such events this week, starting with a recital given by violinist Carol Chung and pianist Frank Pittman in Meredith's Clara Carswell Concert Hall on September 12. It came on the heels of the weekend's big "September Prelude," which focused on the 100th anniversary of Dvorák's death and involved two programs and a daylong workshop with masterclasses for students and amateur musicians. Thus chamber music fans had full plates, but those who took in the Meredith program - and among those present was violist Amadi Hummings, who'd played with the Miró Quartet just hours before - were richly rewarded for their stamina and stick-to-it-ivness.
The concert began with Bach's Sonata No. 3 in C, S.1005, for solo violin. Chung is a wonderful player whose technical command and interpretive skills are equally matched. The slow opening movement was a tad shaky, but things soon moved to a very high plane and remained there for the rest of the program. She etched the Fugue admirably, the Largo was consistently engaging and beautiful, and the finale swept her listeners away. Pittman is one of our best regional accompanists, and his contributions to Franck's familiar Sonata in A, M.8, for violin and piano, were as exceptional as Chung's. The playing was warm, incisive, and ravishing. The performance represented true partnership at its best, and the crowd responded enthusiastically. There was more of the same in the chestnut that ended the program, Kreisler's "Tamborin Chinois," Op. 3, long a favorite encore piece for fiddlers. It gave Chung a chance to show off, and Pittman's strong contributions were also evident throughout. The printed program was bare-bones and wouldn't have helped orient first-time hearers, but one suspects that only the faithful were present.
The following evening, before a sparse crowd in Peace College's grandly-named Sarah Graham Kenan Recital Hall, located in the Browne-McPherson Music Building (which full citation we will probably give only once this season), there was a richly-rewarding program of music by women composers, presented by former National Opera Company soprano Yoko Shimazaki-Kilburn and her artistic and life partner, former Peace pianist Ray Kilburn. CVNC listed the concert in the Triangle calendar but not the program itself, which was one of the most remarkable offerings in recent memory - it encompassed Clara Schumann's Sechs Lieder , Op. 13, three of Six Romances by Makiko Kinoshita (b.1956), and songs by Eleanor Trawick (b.1965), Amy Beach, Rebecca Clark, and Gwyneth Walker (b.1947). The printed program was a class act all by itself; it included titles, dates, texts and translations of the works in German and Japanese, notes on the living composers, and performer bios.
Shimazaki-Kilburn is a stunning concert artist whose vocalism is direct and from the heart. Ray Kilburn is perhaps better known here, but this program shed new light on his skill as an accompanist, as opposed to his often-flashy but invariably engaging solo work. Magisterially supported by the keyboardist, she enveloped the Clara Schumann songs with beautiful singing (called bel canto by Italians), flawless German diction, and emotional insight that brought them to vivid life. There was more of the same in the Japanese group, the words of which emerged in gorgeous streams of sound that some listeners might have mistaken for Italian. The restrained, haiku-like poems hinted at meanings more fully conveyed by the music. The final group spanned wide emotions, too. Trawick's "Ashes" - with words by her father - describes the scattering of her grandparents' ashes in a stream where they had often fished. Beach's "Ah, Love, but a day!" (with words by Browning) is in the best late-Romantic mold. Clark's "The Aspidistra" (words by Claude Flight) amusingly describes the not-unwelcome demise of what is said to be one of the Almighty's ugliest botanical creations. Walker's "Mornings Innocent" (words by May Swenson) is a literally dazzling ode to the sun that can concurrently be read as a love song. It was among the many highlights of an exceptional program that merited far more attention from the public than it received. If there was a problem with the concert, it was that it was too short. Given the extraordinary beauty of the Japanese songs and their relative brevity, it would have been nice to have heard the rest of the set.
Ray Kilburn, now based at Ball State University, returns for a recital at Duke on October 21 (and a masterclass the next day); see our calendar for details.