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"Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Come and see." (John 1.46) Yes! Come and see!
John O'Brien's broadly conceived and executed Music House Summer Baroque/Classical Festival has as its mainstays a number of our own home-grown performers: all the residents of the Festival are from eastern North Carolina: Leslie Conner and Leah Peroutka, violins; Christopher Nunnally, really big violin (cello); Joey O'Donnell, viola; and Meg Owens, oboe. In addition, Jon Shaw, soprano, is an eastern Carolina native, and John O'Brien, harpsichord and flute, deserves honorary eastern Carolina status as a longtime champion of good music in the region. All of these people perform at such a high level that no apology is needed; they are not "not bad, for local players"; rather they are reckoned good wherever they go. Such is the strength of performers that have shaped this Festival.
A new addition to the Greenville musical scene is John O'Brien as a flutist. Well known as an impresario of no little skill and a master of so many keyboard instruments, including piano, organ, and harpsichord, along with lesser known abilities on harp and viola, O'Brien has now shown us his great skill on the baroque one-keyed flute. He had a part in all the pieces on this program except for A Selection of Viennese Minuets by Franz Joseph Haydn (two violins and cello) and W.A. Mozart's Quartet in C, K.157, for the usual two violins, viola, and cello. O'Brien played a one-keyed flute by flutemaker Roderick Cameron, perhaps the finest-toned Cameron I've ever heard.
In introducing this, the classical part of the Festival, O'Brien made deprecating remarks relating himself to Florence Foster Jenkins; this is so not. O'Brien brings the same consummate musicianship to his relaxed flute playing as he does when playing any other instrument. In Haydn's Trio in D Major for flute (O'Brien), violin (Peroutka), and cello (Nunnally), the three played pristinely as one; the flute was clear and pure.
A Selection of Viennese Minuets by Franz Joseph Haydn, for two violins and cello, continued the all-playing-as-one; only minimal tuning was required, considering the rainy and near-rainy weather. The double stopping in the second minuet was martial and precise.
Mozart's Quartet in D, K.285, for flute, violin, viola, and cello is, like the Flute and Harp Concerto, another flute-lover's crowd-pleaser from the man who disliked the flute. The ensemble continued its as-one playing and the minor trouble O'Brien had with some of the runs in the opening Allegro soon disappeared in his careful intonation and musical playing. There was a false start at the beginning of the Adagio; like all music this intimate, the false start was handily overcome, partly through O'Brien's self-effacing funny remarks. The players and the audience were all about to get the silly giggles (a deadly thing for music-making) when sirens were heard on the street and O'Brien ruefully remarked that they were coming for him. In spite of this, everyone got those giggles under control and the ethereal pizzicato of the strings contrasted beautifully with the liquid tones of the flute.
Warhorses don't get to be warhorses until they have proved themselves over and over in battle. Such a beast is Mozart's String Quartet in C, K.157. Riding this valiant steed, Peroutka, Conner, O'Donnell, and Nunnally were total victors in the gentle battle. Of particular note was the way both violins allowed O'Donnell's delightful viola part to shine forth, not making the viola the doormat as some other quartets do. And Nunnally's "really big violin" was really singing in the Andante!
The music finished with two of Luigi Rodolfo Boccherini's Quintets from Op. 21: No. 1 in D and No. 5 in G. Although these are lighthearted compositions, there is much thematic material to play; the ensemble brought the same care to these as to the rest of the program.
These players, all originating in eastern NC, to a certain extent grew up with one another. They have gone their separate ways: Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Indiana, Virginia, and Greenville via New York. In their performances at the Music House they embrace the audience in the friendship and in sharing strong and joyful playing. Everything they do sounds like complete cooperation; it never sounds like combat. What a fine ensemble!