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Nine great musicians from the Piedmont Triad region hammed it up in three of the five works presented in the closing concert of the 2010 Carolina Summer Music Festival in the acoustically very lively James A. Gray Auditorium in the Old Salem Visitors Center.
The concert opened with a delightful performance of the early Mozart Flute Quartet in C, K285b which is comprised of an Allegro and an Andantino theme and six variations. Lisa Ransom, one of three Artistic Co-directors, was the excellent flutist, partnered by Jacqui Carrasco on violin, Diane Phoenix-Neale on viola and Alexandra Johnston on cello. Especially charming was the fifth variation with the flute and cello playing in imitation over the mesmerizing tremolo of the violin and viola.
Ms. Ransom then introduced us to Mozart’s Ein Musikalischer Spass, (A Musical Joke) K. 522, a divertimento in four movements for two horns and string quartet. Corine Brouwer joined the trio from the previous piece and Bob Campbell and Joe Mount provided the laughs in the horn section. Much of the period humor had to be translated for us, being of a subtlety erased by the evolution of music since Mozart’s time, but some was more of the slap-stick variety – horns in the wrong key, a pompous and frivolous violin cadenza, wrong harmonies and the earliest known example of polytonality!
After an intermission replete with complementary champagne, we were treated (?) to a hilarious string quartet by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963): Ouvertüre zum "Fliegenden Holländer" wie sie eine schlechte Kurkapelle morgens um 7 am Brunnen vom Blatt spielt (Overture to the Flying Dutchman as a Bad Spa-Orchestra Would Sight-Read at 7 in the Morning in Front of the Fountain). This is difficult music to play and hard to hear, even those parts which were in tune and where one could guess about Wagner’s intent. Yes, it really was that bad, even the Rosenkavalier-ish waltz that slipped into the middle of the parody! But the audience roared while the musicians finally shuffled off, some in bedroom slippers to prepare for the next bit of humor from one of the wittiest of composers, Franz Josef Haydn.
We were essentially treated to one of Haydn’s best punch-lines with only the Finale of his 30th quartet, Op. 33, No. 2 in E-flat. There are several witticisms throughout the movement but the Joke is in the coda, where Haydn over-shoots the natural conclusion and adds fragments of the main theme and progressively longer general pauses, confusing the audience as to when the piece actually ends. Jacqui Carrasco led the tight ensemble work of the quartet with mastery and humor.
The final piece on the program was the "Trio (sic) Sonata, S. 3(4)" by P. D. Q. Bach (AKA Peter Schikele). The work is in four movements:
I. Antemezzo (Before Half)
II. Mezzo (Half)
III. Intermezzo (Between Halves)
IV. l'Altro Mezzo (The Other Half)
Lisa Ransom and Jacqui Carrasco were joined by Matt Ransom, tuba and John Beck, tambourine (the newcomers formally dressed in tails and sneakers) in a cleverly crafted work based on the style of Arcangelo Corelli, perhaps a parody of his famous Christmas Concerto (Op. 6, No. 8). The tambourines are used discretely until the end when in a burst of Flamenco frenzy it is stirred, shaken and even thrown to end the last chord. In the third movement, the tambourine is tacit, but in imitation of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves, Beck tended the giant mute of the tuba, resembling a cone mounted in a wastebasket, stuffing it into the bell of the tuba at each repeat sign, at the command of a finger-snap. This was a fitting conclusion to a very well performed concert of musicians teasing music, the audience and even themselves.
A note for future performances in Gray auditorium – the hall strongly favors the high register, to the detriment of the low pitches. Perhaps lower instruments can be placed more centrally and higher instruments played with still more of an ear to balance.