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The Durham Symphony Orchestra gave a kick-off concert for its 43rd season featuring chamber music performed by some of their outstanding musicians at the Hayti Heritage Center. The concert was hosted by Maestro William Henry Curry, who is beginning his 10th year as music director and conductor.
The program opened with the first movement of Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D by Gioachino Rossini, performed by cellist Sonny Enslen and bassist Zachary Denning. Rossini, best known for his operas, wrote this somewhat off-beat piece while still young and getting started in the theatrical arena. It is a very pleasant conversational piece, with one instrument often finishing a phrase begun by the other. There were also brief lyrical comments and an interesting pizzicato aside. Enslen and Denning were comfortable in their performance, communicating congeniality and pleasure through the music.
The next selection was Sonata in A, TWV 41, from the extremely prolific pen of Georg Philipp Telemann. For this performance, bassist Denning was joined by flutist Erin Munnelly. The first movement, Adagio, features a lovely melody in the flute with the bass providing a continuo. The second movement, Vivace, is a dancing tune with a lively lilt, and the third, marked Coretesement, is a dignified courtly dance. The closing Vivace gives a melodic line to the bass with the flute providing a charming obbligato. It was most interesting to hear the lowest of the stringed instruments coupled with one of the highest of the wind instruments in the clever compositional style of Telemann. Munnelly and Denning, each complimenting the other, provided rare and delightful ensemble.
Moving ahead more than two centuries we next heard five movements of American composer Vincent Persichetti's Serenade No. 10 for flute and harp. Munnelly was the flutist and Leigh Stringfellow, the harpist. These are short, romantic, lyrical pieces composed to take full advantage of the mellow tones and timbres of these two instruments. Plucked arpeggios from the harp over which the flute sings, a beautiful flute melody accompanied by delicious strummed harp chords, intricate syncopated passages, and more demonstrated the skill of the composer as well as the exceptional skill of the performing artists.
Munnelly, Enslen, and Stringfellow joined together for an outstanding and impressive performance of Claude Debussy's Sonata for flute, viola, and harp, with the string part here adapted to be played on the cello. The first movement, Pastorale, was played on this program. It was resplendent with the unique sonic language for which Debussy is well known: whole-tone scales, open chords, outrageous harp flourishes, mysterious harmonies, and such. The trio of excellent musicians achieved something as a whole that exceeded the sum of the individual parts. The blends and contrasts and the overriding sense of unity of purpose were fully achieved and seemed to be recognized both by the musicians on stage and the audience, which burst into appreciative applause.
The program closed with two songs from Florence Price's Folksongs in Counterpoint. Price was the first woman of African descent who achieved any degree of recognition to speak of. She won a composition competition for her First Symphony in the 1930's and was awarded what for the time was a significant monetary prize as well as having the work performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. By the time of her death in 1953, however, she was forgotten, other than as a short footnote in the history of American music. In 2009 a construction worker came across a large cache of her music in the house where she lived when she died that was scheduled for demolition. Thus her music was saved for all time – songs, chamber works, two violin concertos, a fourth symphony, and a piano concerto.* We will hear more from Price. You can count on that.
The two folksong arrangements we heard were "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" and "O My Darling, Clementine." It appears that Price's approach, at least in some of her folksongs in Counterpoint, was to divide the phrases of the song, treat them as variations, and then to put them together again in counterpoint. Such a technique provided an intriguing and bewitching effect.
They were originally composed for string quartet, but we heard them arranged for four flutes. The performing artists were Munnelly, Irene Burke, Amy Holt, and Beth O'Reilly. The result was a warm and mellow sound of perfectly delightful music.
The full Durham Symphony will be heard November 29th at The Armory in their "Greetings of the Season - Holiday Pops" concert.
*Note the NC Symphony and guest artist Michelle Cann will offer two performances of Price's Piano Concerto in Raleigh, on Nov. 16 and 17. For details, click here.