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News is starting to spread on the full extent of new Charlotte Symphony maestro Christopher Warren-Green’s commitment to his newly adopted hometown. Aside from moving with his wife and youngest son to Charlotte, pitching in with the financially troubled Symphony’s fundraising, and conducting seven of the scheduled 10 classics concerts, Warren-Green will be wielding his baton at one of the LolliPops kiddie concerts, one of the adult Pop concerts, and two of the Knightsounds concerts, a new series targeted at young professionals. What may still be slipping beneath the radar is that Warren-Green’s wife, violinist Rosemary Furniss, who also serves as artistic director of the London Chamber Orchestra, has also jumped into the local music scene. Just four days after her husband launched Symphony’s 2010-11 season, she performed on three major trio works – by Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, and Brahms – in a benefit concert at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
Principal Charlotte Symphony cellist Alan Black, founder of the Chamber Music for Teens Summer Workshop (the beneficiaries of the concert), was clearly the prime mover for most of the repertoire and performers. Black was also the founding director of the monthly Chamber Music at St. Peter’s series in 1995, but he quit that post before the Episcopal Church closed down for renovations at the end of the 2008-09 season – and the series rebranded itself as Charlotte Chamber Music last year at sunnier, acoustically superior First Presbyterian. Furniss may be new to the St. Peter’s fold, but Romanian pianist Dana Protopopescu, filling out the trio, certainly is not. She teamed up with Black on another Beethoven trio, “The Archduke,” three years ago and guest-starred at the keyboard for the mighty Cesar Franck quintet six months later.
This time, the named trio was Beethoven’s “Ghost,” but it wasn’t long before it became apparent that renovations at St. Peter’s had wrought no sonic miracles in the altar section where the musicians sat. After the opening bursts of the ensemble, Black’s eloquence glowed nicely enough stating the Allegro vivace’s main theme, but the trebles of the piano and the violin were cruelly butchered, far too reverberant in the forte passages. Loud treble passages in the ensuing Largo assai, the spooky movement that gives the “Ghost” its name, hardly fared better, but most of the spell woven by the violin and the piano is soft-spoken in the midrange, so the beautiful expressivity of Furniss and Protopopescu was not overly befogged. As far as the Victrola sound of the piano might be perceived as spectral, it was an asset here, and in the concluding Presto, there was lusty work from Protopopescu that escaped mutilation.
If you fancy Rachmaninoff’s Trio Élégiaque done with a toy piano, then Protopopescu’s glass-enclosed work there had to sound definitive. Fortunately, there is also marvelously affecting writing for the strings that emerged unscathed. Acceleration was admirably organic as the emotion of the piece swelled, and Furniss could attack her fiercest passages fearlessly since they lie deep in viola territory. As we subsided into elegy, Furniss faded with an eerie grace that recalled some of the ghostliness heard earlier.
The Opus 8 trio by Brahms has all the sparkling vitality of a work written in the composer’s early twenties and all the benefits supplied by the example of Beethoven’s maturity. Lighter by far than the “Ghost,” the B major work does not come up short on breadth or ambition, yet it fits more comfortably in the St. Peter’s acoustic. Furniss’s entrance in the opening was enfolded in sweetness, and the simpler writing for Protopopescu protected her playing from mushiness much longer. Romping sections of the ensuing Scherzo were diffuse, barely tolerable, but the sound snapped mercifully into focus as the movement quieted down and remained reasonably tight as it climaxed. Distortions afflicting the piano, giving it the sound of pealing bells, actually chimed rather well with the dirge-like opening of the Adagio. It was the most flattering movement of the night acoustically as Furniss made a beauteous high entry up in the treble and Black elegized on cello at greater length. After a swelling and subsiding solemnity wistfully caressed by Protopopescu to end the Adagio, Black warmly introduced the closing Allegro (on a fine instrument he has on loan from Yo-Yo Ma). Furniss turned up the heat, and Protopopescu brought it to a boil, almost manic in her drive, but it was Furniss who was perhaps most impressively spirited and virtuosic as we arrived at the satisfying conclusion.
And the violinist must be the prime suspect in engineering the brief vocal delight that was inserted among the trios. Sally Silver, who has recently portrayed the title role in the first recording of William Vincent Wallace’s Lurline for Naxos (660293-94), will be featured in a Knightsounds concert with Charlotte Symphony next February. So an early rehearsal for that event might explain how the Londoner could appear so fleetingly – under such averse conditions – singing the Aria portion of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5 in an arrangement for soprano, cello, and piano. Black’s cello enjoyed most-favored instrument status as Silver’s voice soared higher and louder in the famed wordless Villa-Lobos melody, but the softer reprise of the vocalese, more hummed than sung, was far more pleasing to the ear, auguring well for her return in February.
(For details of these forthcoming events, see our calendar in the coming months.)