The fine, intimate acoustics of the Recital Hall of the University of North Carolina Greensboro's College of Visual and Performing Arts are ideal for chamber music. This is especially true for an unamplified acoustic guitar. Both weekly guest concerto soloists of the Eastern Music Festival were featured in the eclectic program. Noted guitarist Jason Vieaux was featured in a rare work by Paganini and an iconic piece by Piazzolla. Prominent pianist Koo-Woo Paik anchored a monumental piano quintet of Dmitri Shostakovich. These were leavened by a short work featuring four percussionists cutting loose on everything but the kitchen sink.
Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) is best known for his pyrotechnic violin show pieces. However, his Terzetto concertante in D, Op. 68, MS 114, is one of a number of chamber works featuring the guitar. Violist Chauncey Patterson and cellist Julian Schwarz joined Vieaux for a delightful performance with each of the players carrying the melody with interesting juxtapositions. The interweaving of texture was a constant delight. Paganini wrote the viola part for himself. Perhaps that is why the piece exploits the higher registers. Vieaux's crisp, clear articulation was deeply satisfying. Schwarz's tone was rich and warm.
Histoire du Tango is one of the most often played works by Astor Piazolla (1921-92). The Argentinian composer took the tango, a dance from the bordellos of Buenos Aires, and developed them into a high art form as the "Tango Nuevo." This work distills its evolution into four movements: "Bordello 1900," "Café 1930," "Nightclub 1960," and "Concert d'Aujourd'hui." Originally composed for flute and guitar, this performance was brilliantly interpreted by violinist Nigel Armstrong with Vieaux on guitar.
Armstrong's intonation was excellent as was his tone over the course of many changes in pace and dynamics. Neither player used a score but played together effortlessly though the tempo was surprisingly fast. Both spun the downhearted melody of the second movement beautifully. The pure sound of Vieaux's unamplified guitar was a constant pleasure. The influence of Brazilian bossa nova was evoked effectively in the third movement. Such sounds as a harsh, scratchy violin caused by heavy bowing below the bridge was just one of modern influences (those of Bartók and Ravel) that were heard in the last movement. Vieaux and Armstrong were rewarded with a prolonged standing ovation.
"José/beFORe JOHN⁵" by Hungarian Aurél Holló (b.1966) really needs to be seen as well as heard. Holló wanted to take the Spanish style of ethnic contrabassist Renaud Garcia-Fon's recording, "Oriental Bass," as a basis to layer Arabic and Gypsy effects and create an original percussion work. Central to it was a marimba played by two players facing each other on either side. All about them were various drums (some clearly African), cans, metal lids, etc. Two other players dashed about in incessant activity. The percussionists were John Shaw, Matthew Decker, Eric Schweikert, and Wiley Sykes.
Kaleidoscopic is too limited an adjective to encompass the sonic whirlwind between the opening rhythmic clapping of hands through the rapid runs up and down the marimba and various drummings before ending with delicate finger cymbals! It was wildly received by the EMF percussion students and pretty enthusiastically by the rest.
The Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57, is among the most highly regarded chamber works of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75). It was composed in 1940 and premiered in Moscow on November 23rd of that year by the Beethoven Quartet with the composer at the piano.* The work is in five movements: Prelude, Fugue, Scherzo, Intermezzo, and Finale: Allegretto.
For this performance, pianist Paik was joined by violinist John Fadial, violinist Jenny Grégoire, violist Daniel Reinker, and cellist Amy Frost-Baumgarten. Paik's solemn, spare chords opened the work ominously, soon joined briefly by the strings' thick texture. All five players rarely played together for long in the first two movements. The reduced couplings began early with a beautiful pairing of viola and keyboard before being taken up by each in turn. The hushed Fugue movement came off superbly with muted stings entering one voice at a time over a low octave from Paik.
All five threw themselves in the Dionysian swagger of the Scherzo with its infectious theme. Fadial really dug into wild dance music trio! Among the highlights of the tranquil Intermezzo was Fadial's weaving of the plaintive violin theme above Frost-Baumgarten's walking bass line. Paik's playing of the gentle piano theme led seamlessly to the seemingly optimistic tone of the concluding Finale. The mood and texture was light, but the quiet ending left a lingering doubt.
*In 1960, forty years after the world premiere, Shostakovich and the Beethoven Quartet made the first recording of the work. It is well worth acquiring.
For more on upcoming Eastern Music Festival performances see our calendar.