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The birth of a newly organized chamber orchestra is always eagerly anticipated. Music director Paul Manz introduced the premiere concert of the North Carolina Chamber Orchestra as being the result of nearly a year's careful planning. For this concert, it consisted of four first violins, four second violins, three violas, three cellos, one double bass with the nimble John Fair on an electronic keyboard as the harpsichord continuo. Fellowship Presbyterian Church, on New Garden, provided fine acoustics for the musicians. Two works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685- 1750) sandwiched a rare treat by Gustav Holst (1893-1934) before intermission. A rich work by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93) left the audience in a good mood.
Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G, S. 1048 made a fine appetizer for sampling the depth and skill of Manz's ensemble. Although originally scored for just groups of three violins, three violas, three cellos with bass and harpsichord, the NCCO's slightly larger forces did no harm to Bach's constantly shifting interplay between the sections and fleeting solos. The interpretation was mainstream with apt tempos and finely graded dynamics. The players' rich string tone was a constant delight throughout the concert.
Beyond his The Planets, Op. 32 (1914-16), works of Gustav Holst are too infrequently encountered in our region. It was both delightful and exciting to hear a live performance of his Saint Paul Suite for Strings, Op. 29, No. 2 (1912-13). According to his daughter Imogen Holst in The Music of Gustav Holst (1951), he composed it for his pupils at St. Paul's School for Girls. It is in four movements: Jig-Vivace, Ostinato-Presto, Intermezzo-Andante con molto, and Finale (The Dargason)-Allegro. The opening movement reflects the "influence of the 'capers' in the Morris dance tunes he had been arranging for military band." Rapid and sudden juxtapositions of rhythm is a feature of the second movement. Holst's fascination with the Indian Rig Veda and Savitri as well as the "Hymn of the Travelers" flavor the Intermezzo. The Finale is almost identical to the "Fantasia on the Dargason" at the end of the Second Suite for Military Band Op. 28b (1911).
Manz led a superb performance with wonderfully sprung rhythms, precis attacks, and a wide tapestry of string tone. The several prominent violin solos were superbly played by concertmaster Dan Skidmore. More than one violin solo reminded me of the flavor of the orientalism of those in the Scheherazade, Op. 35 of Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff.
Next, concertmaster Skidmore and associate concertmaster Matthew Kiefer stepped forward as soloists for a beautifully played interpretation of Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, S. 1043. The interplay between the two soloists was a constant delight. Their intonation and phrasing were resplendent.
A medical issue, quickly dealt with by the local EMF, occasioned an expanded intermission.
Manz ended the concert with a breathtaking, magnificent performance of Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings, Op. 48. As each of its four ripe, melodic movements went by, the depth of talent in each section was revealed. What lovely and varied pizzicatos! How tonally rich the low strings and how soaring the violins! One could hardly ask for a more artistically promising debut.