They've been putting on concerts in Smedes Parlor, the beautiful old room with high ceilings, excellent acoustics, and an admirable Steinway piano, for a very long time. Specifically, Terry Thompson, St. Mary's School's instructor of music and director of its applied music program has been presenting events there for 37 seasons, a record of consistent longevity few area impresarios can come anywhere close to matching.
The second of this year's programs featured piano trios by Beethoven, Turina, and Brahms. The artists were pianist Jeremy Thompson, late of Goldsboro but now based in Charlottesville, Virginia (and whose birthplace, Dipper Harbour, New Brunswick, merits at least a mention every time we hear him play), violinist Fabián López, and cellist Nathan Leyland. The string players are well-known from their many area appearances, and indeed they are colleagues in the Fayetteville Symphony Orchestra, which has the distinction of being the "oldest continuously-funded community orchestra in North Carolina." This program, which was also recently presented in Charlottesville, marks the first time the three artists have performed together. It was quite an auspicious debut of a "new" piano trio!
The program began with Beethoven's "Ghost" Trio, in D, Op. 70, No. 1. This is the master's best-known piano trio aside from the "Archduke." It's a work that invariably tests the mettle of the performers, and on this occasion the three artists emerged triumphant in every respect, for this was a deeply-felt, flawlessly executed reading, rich in shared interpretive insights, incisive playing, and radiant instrumental sound. A chief delight of chamber music is the reliance of the players on each other, and these folks were constantly watchful as the music unfolded. Here, the slow movement was particularly rewarding to hear, but the entire piece was, as someone observed, "of a piece," and chances are the memory of this performance will linger long. ('Tis said that playing chamber music helps keep orchestral musicians sane, for they get to make all the decisions themselves, collectively, without the influence of a stick-waver. There's some truth in that, for sure!)
López is of Spanish birth, so a score from one of that nation's great near-contemporary composers, Joaquín Turina (1882-1949), was not unexpected. What was unexpected was the immediate appeal of Circulo, Op. 91, a rarely heard fantasia for piano trio from relatively late in Turina's life. Its three movements depict dawn, mid-day, and twilight, the latter two running together. The music is often dark, pensive, and almost certainly reflective of the civil war that wracked Spain before WWII. Here's a vote for more music from this quarter of the musical world.*
The finale, given after a brief pause, was Brahms' Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8 in B (published in 1854), given however in its late (1889) revision. Both versions enjoy considerable currency, the expansive first one demonstrating Brahms' prodigious gifts at the very outset of his compositional life, the second, shorter one being somewhat less expansive and a good deal more to the point, particularly in the first and fourth movements, both of which were cut by roughly a third when the composer revisited them.
The drama and youthful exuberance remained, qualities that were admirably projected by these artists. Each of them enjoyed numerous sterling solo opportunities that invariably reminded listeners of the excellence of the performers and their complete unanimity in terms of chamber music performance. If the slow movement here was, as earlier, the highlight for some of us, that may reflect a certain level of apprehension over our national mood as much as anything the composer may have intended so very long ago. That said, the finale was a stem-winder of considerable proportions, and the audience responded with enthusiasm and evident gratitude.
(Note that repeats were generally omitted except, of course, in the Scherzo of the Brahms.)
Additional concerts in the Smedes Parlor series will be announced in the near future.
*For more information on the Turina trio, click here.