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Any time you encounter that particular combination of five strings and three winds, it's a safe bet that the huge and celebrated Schubert Octet is lurking nearby. Such was the case on a stormy evening in Kenan Recital Hall on the campus of William Peace University. The Manning Music Series presented eight polished players from the North Carolina Symphony in a first-rate chamber music offering. Present at the concert and adding to the charm of the evening was Sara Jo Allen Manning, an alumna whose generosity has made this fine series possible.
This ensemble of eight players, each of whom is an established artist, comprised violinists Elizabeth Phelps Baron and Dovid Friedlander, violist Samuel Gold, cellist Elizabeth Beilman, bassist Robert Anderson, clarinetist Andrew Lowy, bassoonist John Pederson, and horn player Rebekah Daley. (Biographical and background information for all these musicians can be found here).
A subset of the group – violin (Baron), viola, cello, and bassoon – opened with the Quartet Op. 40, No. 2, for this rather improbable combination of instruments, by Franz Danzi (1763-1826). It was fitting that Pederson introduced the piece, since his bassoon did the gymnastic heavy lifting throughout. If such a work were produced today, it would be said to feature bassoon with string trio backup, or perhaps a mini-concerto for bassoon and strings. While this chamber work was not without its diversionary rewards, it might arguably be considered an acquired taste.
You'd have had to be mighty fastidious not to applaud this group's reading of Schubert's great Octet – great, that is, in length (about an hour) and all-time high ranking among chamber works. Furthermore, it would have required a sharp ear not to feel one was listening to a chamber orchestra, so full was the "orchestration" and so bold and assertive were the musicians throughout the six movements.
Who could resist the violin (Friedlander) and clarinet duo in the second movement? Then there was the unforgettable Andante and the energetic "big" rhythm of the Allegro vivace and its veritable symphonic sound. Has this monumental work ever received a more constructive treatment? The enthusiastic audience did not seem to think so.
Let's hear it for the North Carolina Symphony, these eight players, and William Peace University! Also thanks must go to Duke Energy and Fifth Third Bank for their support, and perhaps most of all to the aforementioned founding benefactor of the Manning Music Series.