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To most wildflower fanatics, the Fire Pink would rank right up there with the Showy Lady’s Slipper, the Turk’s-Cap Lily and the Fringed Phacelia for sheer splendor. While there were no actual wildflowers in the Kennedy-McIlwee Studio Theatre on this particular Valentine evening, the Fire Pink Trio showed up, and they did exhibit bits of musical splendor to that packed house on the campus of North Carolina State University.
From the program notes: “Formed in 2008, this dynamic and poetic trio combines harp, flute and viola, to produce exciting music from the past and the present.” Harpist Jacquelyn Bartlett, on the faculty of the North Carolina School of the Arts and other institutions, attended Oberlin Conservatory and has studied with the world-famed Carlos Salzedo. Flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta has won top prizes too numerous to chronicle here. She is principal flutist with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, and she teaches at Salem College. Violist Sheila Browne teaches at the North Carolina School of the Arts and has soloed with many of the world’s leading ensembles. The renowned Robert Mann has called her “one of America’s most important violists.”
The aforementioned splendor appeared sometimes in subtle form. Much of the program could have been billed as selections from a demanding course in music appreciation. The opening "Doppler Effect" trio by Adrienne Albert (b. 1941) was perhaps the most pleasing of that genre. It’s lively atonality readily suggested sirens whizzing by, leaving the listener in the wake of their Doppler howling. The taste for “Garten von Freuden und Traurigkeiten” (Garden of Joys and Sorrows) would be an acquired one. Here the harp was “prepared” (always a warning flag) with paper and various implements. The viola was expected to perform “outside the box.” Despite these measures, this piece by Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931) contained some tuneful passages. Robert Dick’s (b. 1950) “Lookout!” for solo flute called for that instrument to simulate a rock band. The intrepid flutist made the best of the less-than-ideal situation with multiple tones, voicing and finger-drumming.
NC State Music Department Director J. Mark Scearce (b. 1960) was present to introduce his Tadaima (“I’m home” in Hawaiian), pointing out that he was the “junior” composer of the first half. He said that it celebrates a happy time shared in Hawaii with their beloved cat. The piece did indeed have a celebratory ring to it. It was characterized by spare, poignant viola lines leading into lush harmonies by the full trio.
Hasan Ucarsu’s (b. 1965) "Elif Dedim Be Dedim" for viola and harp was based upon a Turkish folk tale wherein a dying man pens a note to his loved one who has been forbidden to contact him. The two players collaborated marvelously here with the requisite oriental flavor. The piece closed with Sheila Browne singing a short Turkish poem. If she ever tires of the viola, she might make it as a pretty good contralto singer of art songs.
Closing the program was Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp. Composed in 1915, this work brought forth the true excellence of these musicians for everyone to observe. The harpist read a few trenchant quotes from the composer, and asserted that here was a chamber work as fine as any in the literature. The players then proceeded to go far toward validating that claim. One could not ask for more incisive and “impressionistic” treatment of the spontaneous mellow Pastorale with its wonderful solo turns by all three players, the pensive Interlude and the fiery resolute Finale.
These artists showed the type of genius that explains the plenteous praise and awards each one has received. It is good for the world of chamber music that they have seen fit to pool their talents.