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The intimate seating in the Mary Duke Biddle Music Building's Bone Hall on the East campus of Duke University was soon full. This concert was a joint venture of the Duke University Musical Instrument Collections (DUMIC) in association with the North Carolina HIP Music Festival. HIP (Historically Informed Performance) practice of Baroque works mixed comfortably with North Carolina premieres of contemporary composers' works for harpsichords. Many of the later are the result of the Aliénor Harpsichord Composition Competition that has been responsible for the more than 700 scores housed in the Duke Music Library.
This slightly shortened program, "Tango for Two: Old and New Music for Two Harpsichords," served as a sampler for a fuller version to be repeated at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Durham. Two local artists, Elaine Funaro and Beverly Biggs, along with visiting artist Rebecca Pechefsky who is active in the New York area, played the two harpsichords tuned to A415.
Both instruments were reproductions of famous 18th century instruments built by the famous William Dowd. On stage right was the rich, brown harpsichord trimmed with gold with design based on a French one by Pascal Taskin (1723-93) while the light green one on stage left was based on a German model by Michael Mietke (1656-1719). The palette of color and timbre was remarkable.
A lovely solo piece opened the concert – "Parler du fond du Coeur" from the Sonatine for Harpsichord by Andrew Collett. Funaro, at the larger Dowd/Taskin harpsichord, brought out the melancholy qualities of a work worthy to join the rich traditions of the clavecin players of old.
Pechefsky took her place at the Dowd/Mietke harpsichord and joined Funaro for a very Bach-like Allegro movement from a Concerto in A minor for Two Harpsichords by Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-80). J. S. Bach regarded Krebs as one of his best students and the movement was a fine example of Baroque concerto form.
An Aliénor winner is credited with the transcription of "La Livri" from Pièces de Clavecin en Concert No.1 by Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683-1764). Biggs joined Funaro at the Dowd/Mietke harpsichord for this fine Baroque piece originally composed as a chamber work with keyboard. Both Baroque works will receive complete performances at the repeat concert on 2/13/16.
Next came the superbly imaginative and skillfully scored Sonata No. 2 for Two Harpsichords (2014) by Carrboro resident Edwin McLean (b. 1951). This is a fine second commission by the organization from the former Alénor winner. It is in three movements: "Tempo de tango," "Moderately, expressively," and "Expressively, freely." The constantly shifting interplay of rhythm and subtle melodies are fascinating. The composer will be present for the repeat 2/13/16.
Funaro was featured as soloist in two contemporary selections next. The Andantino from Three Dances for Harpsichord by Israeli Dina Smorgonskaya clearly had a contemporary quality within an older rhythm. More fascinating was the juxtaposition of registers in "Tambourin" from Partita by American composer Adam Rothenberg. The movement suggested the repeated sound of a tambourine as a foundation for a complex, shifting pattern.
Two Baroque samples came next from the pen of François Couperin, le Grand (1668-1733). Biggs and Pechefsky chose "Allemande á clavecins" from Second Livre, Ninth Order, and "Muséte de Taverni Légèrement" from Troisième Livre de Clavecin, 15th Order. The latter's evocation of a French peasant bagpipe was delightful.
Funaro and Pechefsky brought the concert to an end with a full performance of all three movements of Concerto for Two (2015) by Mark Janello (b. 1961). The movements are entitled "Allegro," "Languid, yet somehow relentless," and "Exuberant, yet wistful." The scoring is engaging from beginning to end.
It was a constant pleasure to hear three such internationally renowned virtuosi on such magnificent instruments. Do not miss the fuller program at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Hope Valley, Durham on Saturday, February 13. See the sidebar for details.