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Fond memories of nearly five decades of strong music-making filled many older music lovers in the assembly hall of Carol Woods Retirement Community. The performers were cellist Fred Raimi and pianist Dell Williams, who holds a Ph,D in musicology from UNC. Raimi joined the renowned Ciompi Quartet in 1974 and retired in April 2018 after national and international tours in addition to his annual cello recitals on the Duke University campus. This program featured works by J.S. Bach, Dvořák, and Brahms. The concert was part of Carol Wood's 40th anniversary celebration. Raimi has played here many times since the concert series was founded in 1981.
The concert opened with the solo Cello Suite No. III in C, S.1009, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). The earliest source for his set of six cello suites dates from the copy made by his wife Anna Magdalena between 1717-23 but may have evolved from earlier versions made during the Weimar years (1708-17). In this suite, Bach exploits C major, the richest and most resonant key for the instrument. It is in six movements: Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Bourrées 1 and 2, and Gigue.
Raimi gave a deeply considered interpretation reflecting his long experience with the work. His full, warm tone was coupled with subtle control of dynamics and a rich variety of rhythms in the strongly characterized dances. His deeply resonant performance of the Prelude was majestic. He brought a bouncy, lively rhythm to the Allemande. There was a nice sense of forward drive in the Courante. The Sarabande's measured pace and long phrases were memorable. He brought out the energy and melodic beauty of the First Bourée which was strongly contrasted to the more hushed, melancholy Second Bourée. His playing of the concluding Gigue was bursting with energy and infectious rhythm.
Pianist Williams joined Raimi on stage for "Silent Woods," Op. 68, No. 5 (1893), by Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). The composer made this arrangement for cello from the fifth piece of his piano duet cycle From the Bohemian Forest (1884). There are two editions, one with piano accompaniment and the other with orchestra. The piano's lid was on the short stick and Williams further down-scaled dynamics to hover below the warm melodic line woven by Raimi's cello.
The surprise on Raimi's program was his eschewing the two Brahms cello sonatas, No. 1 in E minor, Op.38, or No. 2 in F, Op. 99, in favor of a transcription of the Violin Sonata in G, Op. 78, No. 1. In order to be played on deeper toned cello, the work is transposed down an octave into D. It is in three movements: Vivace ma non troppo, Adagio, and Allegretto molto moderato. This arrangement was long attributed to Brahms. According to the program note to Naxos 8.550655, it was made in 1897 by Leipzig musician Paul Klengel, brother of cellist Julius Klengel. Commentators make much of Brahms' significant advance in balancing a string instrument with piano. The sonata is nicknamed "Regenlied" (Rain Song) because the seed of the work is the three repeated notes that begin that song (Op. 59, No. 3) Its dotted rhythm is used throughout and most extensively in the finale.
Raimi conjured the work's subtle blend of long sweet melodies with a melancholy undercurrent superbly. Use of dynamics was excellent as was the spinning of expansive phrasing. His tone was rich and warm. Williams' piano was generally well-balanced except for a few spots. Brahms' opening solo for the piano in the second movement allowed Williams to display full understanding of Brahmsian sound. The emotional gamut of the finale was fully expressed.