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Chamber Music Raleigh (CMR) presented the brilliant Benjamin Beilman and Orion Weiss violin-piano duo in recital on an overcast and very busy Sunday afternoon at the NCMA. There was so much going on that the start of the program was delayed, to allow more time for prospective patrons to find parking. One of the several impediments was a big plant sale in one of the lots. (But was that art?)
Weiss replaced Durham native Andrew Tyson, who withdrew precipitously, late in the game.
The program was fascinatingly built of late works – Mozart's last sonata for violin and piano (in A, K.526), Beethoven's last duo sonata involving violin (in G, Op. 96, for piano and violin, to give the preferred order of instruments in his case – but note that the last two cello sonatas post-date it), and Schubert's (next-to-) last work for violin and piano (the Rondo in B Minor, D.895). These masterworks surrounded a new work written for this duo (and dedicated to Angela Davis) by the great American Frederic Rezewski (b.1938), a composer who is widely known and admired for the many causes he has espoused with this sometimes challenging music. (Local listeners will remember his "Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues"  as championed by the late, great Greg McCallum.)
As someone said after the generous program, these guys can play. The violinist appeared with the NCS several years ago; Weiss performed in Winston-Salem twice last year, once in chamber music at the UNCSA and, earlier, with the WSSO. They have done a lot of work together, so it was especially good to hear them paired up in the capital.
The Mozart was elegant albeit a shade too deliberate for this listener's taste. The pacing allowed for serious concentration on the many felicitous beauties of the music, however, and the execution was at once immaculate and technically masterful from both artists – who worked together as if they were a well-oiled musical machine. The Beethoven likewise seemed deliberate at the outset – so much so that one wondered if the piece world dissipate before it reached its conclusion – but the artists' commitment and the overall intensity of the performance made the tempo choices work, and the sonata erupted with musical and technical brilliance at the end. Likewise, the Rondo – so rarely heard, nowadays, and therefore especially welcome – proved in retrospect like a gift from on high, although the composer's reluctance to let go is particularly manifest in this piece, in which (like Mahler not too many decades later) Schubert hardly seemed to know when to stop. Such fiddling! Such pianism! The guests more than earned their standing ovation for this one!
Between the Mozart and the Beethoven came the Rezewski, for which Beilman prepared the audience – somewhat. The program notes – by two of CVNC's founders, Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn – helped prep the audience, too – although, based on some audience complaint, not enough people had read them. There is, one must admit, a lot to absorb in this music, and there's a lot of it, atop that. And there was on this occasion perhaps insufficient demarcation between movements, to guide the listeners, some of whom became increasingly restless. The title is Demons, and there are some of those, along with some ingenious methods of invoking them. The Kahns quote the composer in their note, and his comments may be helpful here:
"My piece is in four movements, and it is a kind of sonata. There are periodic references to two songs throughout the piece: Iroes (Heroes), made popular in the 1990s by the singer Maria Dimitriadis [sic], and a song that became known during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (notably as performed by Barbara Dane), Freedom is a Constant Struggle, which also provided the title for the recent book of Angela Davis."
It would probably have helped if the two tunes had been sampled before the performance.
Given the composer's importance in the overall scheme of things, the piece probably merits a second hearing. No one can dispute the energy and commitment that went into its performance in Raleigh.
But was any of this chamber music? Is a solo recital chamber music? A duo? How about three people playing trio sonatas? We think of chamber music as a minimum of three players with one line to a part. I don't mean to pick a fight, but some presenters offer recital series for those who like them – Duke Performances' solo piano series is a good example; it's separate from chamber music there. Others – like Saint Mary's – offer regular recitals but don't formally bill themselves as chamber music presenters. CMR has two more recitals coming up before a season finale that is a piano trio – that's chamber music for real. On the other hand, where else might artists like Beilman and Weiss fit in? Food for thought....
This program will be repeated on Monday, April 8, in Southern Pines. See the sidebar for details.
Editor's note (5/18/19): As has often been the case, it was the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle that introduced Beilman to this region, after which he was picked up by the NCS. He was a huge hit with the COT audience the year after he won the Young Concert Artists 2010 International Competition where Lorenzo Muti heard him and then brought him here to play Mozart's Concerto No. 5, on May 17, 2009.