Chamber Music, Instrumental Ensemble Review Print

Music for a Great Space: Progress of the Trombones

April 19, 2002 - Greensboro, NC:

The April 19 concert of Greensboro's Music for a Great Space series was listed on our calendar and others as "Christina Dahl, pianist, and the Cleveland Trombones," but a preview by Tim Lindeman in the News and Record also mentioned also a piano trio and named the participants. Based on the professional and marital relationships revealed in that article, I had planned to entitle this review "EMF and GSO Links." Dahl has been an impressive recitalist and soloist on the piano faculty of the Eastern Music Festival for nearly a decade. Violinist John Fadial is the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra's Concertmaster as well as a faculty member of the EMF. His wife, Beth Vanderborgh, the GSO's principal cellist and a former EMF faculty member, has recently been appointed Executive Director of the Music for a Great Space series. Dahl is married to Rick Stout, since fall 2000, the second trombone of the Cleveland Orchestra and, for twelve summers, an EMF faculty member. Steve Witser has been the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Cleveland Orchestra since 1989.

Before the concert began, Vanderborgh told me that as of 7:00 p.m., the two guest trombonists were still in the air due to weather delays at the Akron Airport. She said they would reverse the order of the program, hoping the musicians could arrive around 9:00 p.m. Until they arrived, the program would be improvised and cell phone checks would be made between pieces.

The seven violin sonatas Mozart composed in Mannheim and in Paris, while on tour in 1778, are described by Melvin Berger in his Guide to Sonatas as "historic [because] they are the first to give the violin a role of substance and importance." Of the seven, the Sonata in E Minor, K.304, has astonishing emotional depth and was justly called a "miracle" by Alfred Einstein. The same appellation could be applied to its performance by Fadial and Dahl. From the stage, Dahl said that their performance was probably typical of 18th century approaches in that they had just read through the piece in the hall 45 minutes earlier. She played with the small concert piano lid fully up but she is one of those too rare artists who can easily balance with partners. The clarity of her articulation was extraordinary and the purity of her notes would doubtless have pleased the exacting composer. Fadial contributed warm violin tone and fastidious intonation. The close matching of phrasing was no small "miracle" under the circumstances. This work ought to be programmed more often. After a long pause to check on the progress of the trombones, it was decided to not proceed to read another Mozart sonata but to turn next to a trio.

The printed program listed Mendelssohn's Second Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 66, but after it went to print, the musicians decided to offer instead the ravishing Piano Trio in A Minor by Ravel. They had played it with others but not with each other and had hoped to prepare it for this EMF season. Their interpretation was within the standard parameters. Fadial and Vanderborgh matched their bowings very closely. Dahl brought out the full rainbow of colors in Ravel's palette. The ghostly harmonics were delicious and the balance was excellent throughout. The Pantoum movement, with its swirling, twisting rhythm, was elegant. The Passacaille exploits the lowest ranges of all three instruments and its arch-like structure was brought out well. This somber movement led directly to the bright and sparkling Animé finale.

During the long intermission, applause in the spacious new lobby greeted the 9:15 p.m. arrival of the indefatigable trombonists. After a warm-up, the scheduled first half of the program was followed. Dahl commented on the dearth of concertos and other works that feature solo roles for trombones, leading these players to raid the literature of other instrumentalists. Most of Stout and Witser's selections came from string works by J.S. Bach. The duo alternated melodic and bass roles in "Sich üben im Lieben" from the "Wedding Cantata," S.202. Both displayed sensitivity to dynamics and phrasing rarely heard from their cumbersome instruments. Cello-phile that I am, I have never warmed to cellists raiding the viola da gamba sonatas, never mind trombonists! Dahl's pianism evoked the spirit of the harpsichord and it was amazing watching Stout's virtuosity with embouchure in the rapid passages of one of these pieces. The most successful match of trombone sound with the composer's intentions came in the three-movement Phantasiestücke, Op. 73, by Robert Schumann, originally intended for clarinet. Witser's sensitive trombone playing easily evoked the world of the "Rhenish" Symphony. Both trombonists took the stage for the last works raided and played six of Bach's Two-Part Inventions. These were effective arrangements of Bach, and it was a singular experience to watch the players bring off the tricky fast movements.

I deeply regret that schedule conflicts caused me to miss most of this season's MGS series, which included 16-year-old German organ virtuoso Felix Hell (a hit at the 2001 Piccolo Spoleto Festival), Parisian organist Olivier Latry (reviewed for cvnc by David Arcus), and a recital by mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby that featured rarities by Schumann, Barber, Poulenc and de Falla. This splendid series repays close attention. There was a large turnout of new and old music lovers for this last concert of the current series. On the 18th, the trio members had presented two short educational programs for a packed house of children from a mixture of home, private and public schools. Participants had been given vouchers to attend the Friday night concert.