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Chamber Music Review Print

Williamson Series Opener at Peace

September 16, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

A problem with the shoulder of NCS cellist Susan Gardner's bowing arm necessitated the cancellation of the scheduled by performance of the string sextet version of Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4, at the opening recital in Peace College's Jewel Edgerton Williamson Chamber Music Series, its partnership effort with the NC Symphony, for a good if not full house on September 16. (It has been rescheduled for the February recital, I was told.) Carol Chung and David Marschall, who had presented Mozart's Duo No. 2 in B flat major for violin and viola, K.424, in the context of the Mallarmé Chamber Players' "Mostly Mozart" recital in Durham two weeks ago, were drafted to give a Raleigh repeat as a substitution. The order of the works on the printed program was reversed so this Duo opened the evening's proceedings. They gave a fine reading, although an occasional high note seemed a bit shrill, with the second movement being especially lovely. Communication was excellent between the musicians, and ensemble was outstanding. Alas, a significant portion of the audience thought that the work was over when the first movement had ended and broke the spell of the work as a whole, the result of not having printed information with movement tempi in hand, no doubt.

Next up was a performance of Robert Starer's "The Mystic Trumpeter" for baritone, trumpet, and organ, by James Smith, Timothy Stewart and Virginia Vance respectively. This is an effective setting of Walt Whitman's text where the fairly simple and sparse music suits it noticeably and appealingly well, and the performance was likewise appealing. Apart from a couple of strange breaks by Smith in the flow of the text, which he was singing from a score, where an adjective was separated from the noun it modifies, it went smoothly. Starer (1924-2000) had a Peace College connection in that he was the life partner of novelist Gail Godwin, a Peace alumna.

After intermission, Smith returned to sing from memory Ralph Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs to texts by George Herbert in the version for piano and string quintet that had initially been planned as the opening work. He was joined by Milton Laufer, piano, Rebekah Binford and Eric McCracken, violins, David Marschall, viola, Bonnie Thron, cello, and Bruce Ridge, bass. This version is much fuller, more finely nuanced, and more moving than the one with piano accompaniment only, and this rendition was stirring, in many ways thrilling. Smith and the musicians were not absolutely together in the last verse of "I got me flowers," the second song, and he did not nuance his volume levels throughout quite as much as one might have liked, but these small imperfections did not compromise the overall impressive brilliance of the performance.

As always with performances in this series, the program was professionally printed and competently prepared. It had attractive layout features with simple graphics and lines and contained, in addition to the titles of the works, composers' names and life dates and pleasingly succinct bios of the artists. (Vance gave an oral bio of Chung, who was not originally scheduled to participate, at the beginning of the evening, after explaining the program substitution.) Missing only were the composition dates of the works themselves. The texts (with poets credited and their life dates given) of all the vocal works were attractively laid out on a matching inserted page. As is appropriate, the fact that they are in English was not an excuse for not providing them.

There have been a few changes to this series. Most notably, the recitals now begin at 7:30 p.m. (instead of the former 8:00 p.m.), as do all of Peace's offerings, to make for an earlier ending time, I was told. This reviewer would prefer the elimination of the intermission (as Meredith instituted last season) over the earlier start. In this specific case, it was an unwelcome break between the last two works that were clearly originally programmed as a unit, albeit initially in the reverse order. In addition, the convivial post-concert receptions in the parlor of the main building, where members of the audience could mingle and chat with the performers, have been disappointingly discontinued due to a cut in funds. This makes one wonder yet more about the reasoning behind the earlier start.