Avid music lovers filled much of the Ernest W. Nelson Music Room on the East Campus of Duke University for a dwindling chance to hear cellist Fred Raimi. Raimi has been a member of the Department of Music as well as the longest serving member of the Ciompi Quartet since 1974. He is the only current player who worked with the ensemble's founder, violinist Giorgio Ciompi. The Juilliard School graduate was a member of Pablo Casals' final masterclass and has long been nationally and internationally active as a chamber musician.
Raimi, in brief opening remarks, said most of his program's works were dominated by a mood of melancholy. It was a rare treat to hear No. 9 "Larghetto con dolore" from Twelve Caprices for Cello, Op. 7 (1835, Leipzig) by August Franchomme (1808-84). He was a founding member of the Alard Quartet, unique at the time for consisting entirely of professional musicians. Franchomme continued and refined the French cello style, founded by Jean-Louis Duport (1749-1819) and characterized by an elegant, light, and sweet bowing technique that paired a facile and accurate left hand with an expressive, singing tone.
Raimi spun this lovely piece out seamlessly, producing a full rich tone with dark low notes. The work's mournful character was fully brought out with particularly wistful repeated figures that suggested bittersweet memories. A single lovely pizzicato ended the caprice and whetted the appetite for sampling the remaining eleven sometime.
Two less frequently encountered solo cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) ended each half of this recital. The third and fifth suites have always been my favorites but this was a welcome chance to hear others live.
Suite No. 2 in D minor, S. 1008 ended the first half of the concert and its overall melancholy mood fitted perfectly. Like all six of the suites, the first four movements consist of a Prelude followed by dance-based pieces: Allemande, Courante, and Sarabande. The suites differ in the dance used in the fifth movement. Suite II uses a pair of Minuets. Like all the rest, it ends with a Gigue.
Raimi played this suite from memory spinning seamless lines executed with flawless intonation and using a broad palette of dynamics. He strongly characterized the Courante with a slower tempo than I was used to hearing yet it was fully convincing. Many individual touches made the Sarabande particularly moving. This was a richly satisfying performance.
After intermission, Raimi was joined by Brazilian born pianist Derison Duarte who currently teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central University, and Duke University. Together they performed the Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor by Johannes Brahms (1833-97). The composer pays homage to Bach in the main themes of the opening Allegro non troppo and the final third movement Allegro which are similar to Contrapunctus 3 and 13, respectively, from Die Kunst der Fuge. Brahms calls the middle movement Allegro quasi minuetto, but biographer Karl Geiringer suggests "Valse triste" would be more apt. The Finale is a fugue that challenges both players.
Raimi produced a wonderfully full and sumptuous sonority and displayed a wide range of tonal color. Intonation was impeccable. Raimi brought out exquisitely the wonderful turning point in the melody of the opening movement that is so stirring. Duarte, especially in the first two movements, scaled back the volume of his baby Steinway with its lid fully raised, so as to never cover the cello's sound. Both players pulled out the stops for the dense scoring of the Finale.
Bach's Cello Suite No. 4 in E-flat, S.1010 brought the recital to a rousing conclusion. This suite is heard less often because of its challenges. Raimi's intonation was immaculate and the warmth of his tone was satisfying. His vigorous approach to the Prelude had great individuality. The dance rhythm of Allemande was judged beautifully. His tempo for the Courante allowed for all of its complexity to be cleanly heard. Raimi brought considerable elegance to Bach's unusual rhythm in the Sarabande. The two Bourrées were strongly and effectively contrasted. Raimi's inspired and virtuosic bowing swept up the audience in the fiery concluding Gigue.
This concert was a superb example of the high artistic bar Raimi has set since 1974.