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In between the many storms that Western North Carolina has experienced this winter, Hendersonville Chamber Music has led a charmed life. Even their February concert was held in shirtsleeve weather. Sunday, Hendersonville was again blessed with sunshine and engaging music, both leading to great warmth. The concert, held in First Congregational Church, was entitled “Jason Posnock and Friends.” The performers, all Brevard Music Center faculty members, were two married couples: Jason Posnock, violin, Dilshad Posnock, flute, Alistair MacRae, cello, and soprano Allison Pohl MacRae. The program spanned five centuries, with a first half described as “non-French” and a second half that was all French.
Franz Danzi’s Trio for Flute, Violin & Cello, Op. 71, No. 1, opened the program. Modern audiences would know Danzi much better had it not been his bad luck to be born between Mozart and Beethoven. The first movement of this trio has a theme that reminds me of Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata.” A slow second movement (making excellent use of the flute in a low register) and the minuet that follows are decidedly Mozartian. The bravura Polacca (polonaise) brings to mind the Rondo alla polacca that concludes Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. Even though I enjoy Danzi on his own terms, I can’t help comparing him to the two masters!
Henry Purcell’s “If Music be the Food of Love” demonstrated Allison Pohl MacRae’s excellent diction and operatic strength. Gustav Holst’s Four Songs for Voice and Violin, Op. 35, followed. Written to religious texts, the legato first song has hints of modal music, a declamatory second song has a droning violin accompaniment, and the final two songs are more conventionally lyrical in nature. The Holst was perhaps the most interesting discovery of the afternoon.
I didn’t warm up to the next work, Steven Gerber’s Wessex Songs for voice and cello, written especially for the MacRaes and premiered just nine days earlier. I felt that the cycle lacked a unifying spirit. The composer makes pretentious displays of cello harmonics in the first of the four songs, and boring minimalist riffs on the cello in the third song. It is cerebral modern music, but where is the heart?
All four musicians took the stage for J.S. Bach’s “Aus Liebe” from the St. Matthew Passion. The work was originally written for two oboes, flute and soprano; in this performance violin and cello replaced the oboes. Bach was inspired to represent the inevitability of the Crucifixion (as discussed in the text) by uniting the human (represented by the soprano) and the divine (represented by the flute) in elegant simplicity. Soli Deo Gloria.
The second half of the program began with Jean-Baptiste Bréval’s straight-down-the-middle late classical Trio in C, Op. 8, No. 1, for flute, violin, and cello. The second movement was distinguished by a beautiful flute theme in a stately gavotte.
Allison Pohl MacRae came back on stage to sing two droll pieces by Jacques Ibert for flute and voice, and for “Green,” one of the songs in Claude Debussy’s song cycle Ariettes oubliées (Forgotten Songs), set to a poem by Paul Verlaine.
The final work on the program was Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello, an important introspective piece written in dedication to the late Claude Debussy. Jason Posnock and Alistair MacRae handled the many interpretive obstacles well, making the percussive second movement, the occasionally dissonant chord, the solemnity of the third movement, and the playground taunts of the final movement, with its downward passages, all feel right and proper.
The audience of about a hundred had been treated to some unfamiliar composers (Danzi, Gerber, Bréval) and less-than-household works by Holst, Ibert, and Debussy, all performed with satisfying professionalism. The audience was most appreciative, and the performers gave them an encore, the familiar and aetherial “Flower Duet” from Lakmé by Leo Delibes. A beautiful end to a beautiful afternoon.