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Jeff Multer, concertmaster for the Eastern Music Festival and artistic director of the chamber music series, welcomed listeners to the virtual 59th concert season. He expressed disappointment at not being able to be in Greensboro this summer but stated that the EMF was trying "to make the best out of a difficult situation," with the artist-faculty donating their services to provide on-line concert experiences.
Flutist Les Roettges began the concert with two French solo pieces written for flute, recorded in concert for the St. Augustine Music Festival (2014). "Elegie" by Johannes Donjon (1839-1912) is a beautiful, free-flowing piece that is flashy in an elegant way. Roettges went straight into "Le Follet" by François Donjon (active 1830), a more virtuosic piece. Roettges displayed wonderful musicality and sensitivity in the former and brilliant technique in the latter. The acoustics were terrific, having been recorded in a church sanctuary.
"Lament for Two Violas" by Frank Bridge (England, 1879-1941) was performed by Sarah Coté and Dan Reinker in their home in Nashville, TN, in June 2020. The eight-minute work begins with a richly romantic meandering for one viola, played by Coté; the second viola enters in a dialogue fashion. The haunting music material is equally given to each instrument. Passion builds to a climax and the piece ends in a subdued fashion. The two musicians played this lovely piece with dedicated passion; good intonation and ensemble made for a moving performance.
Another British composition followed with the Fugue in D minor for Oboe and Violin by Edward Elgar (1857-1934), recorded in Reuben and Karen Blundell's home in New York in July 2020. The sturdy subject is first presented by the violin (Reuben), followed by oboe (Karen). A vigorous give-and-take ensues in this short romp. Both performers played with spirit and verve.
Amy (Mrs. H. H. A.) Beach (1867-1944) was the first successful American female composer of large works. Uli Speth (violin) and Craig Ketter (piano, EMF alum) shared a recording of the Allegro moderato from Beach's Sonata in A minor, Op. 34, that was originally commissioned by the Garden State Philharmonic in May 2020. This is a richly Romantic work with wonderful soaring tunes, magical sudden shifts of harmonies, and climaxes that approach hysteria. Speth and Ketter turned in an inspired performance as equal partners in the music-making, sharing the passion and intimacy that make for such a satisfying experience.
By far the longest piece on the program (25 minutes) was the Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 (1914), by Zoltán Kodály (Hungary, 1882-1967). John Fadial (violin) and Beth Vanderborgh (cello) were recorded in isolation in Laramie, Wyoming, in June 2020, for the virtual Shenandoah Valley Bach Festival.
The literature about the Duo makes the point that the tensions of the time (WWI) are evident in the "emotionally harrowing" sounds of the first movement, Allegro serioso, non troppo. Serious and dramatic, yes, but one also finds folk influences in the tunes presented. Fadial and Vanderborgh dove into the passionate score, committing to the tumultuous conflict and careening melodies that soar and dive and to the intimate and profound sensibilities as well.
The second movement, Adagio – Andante, begins rhapsodically, with the two instruments exchanging wide-ranging melodies. The second section features low tremolos in the cello with the violin playing in the stratosphere. The movement ends with whimpers and cries and unearthly harmonics. Each musician played with incredible rhythmic flexibility yet ensemble was as tight as a glove.
The finale, Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento – Presto, begins with free imaginative flights from the violin and comments from the cello before all hell breaks loose. Some serious fiddling from both cello and violin takes place in this wild, dance-infused section. Folk tunes fly and wild rhythms abound. Fadial and Vanderborgh perfectly matched each other's dashes, sprinkled with amazing perfect unisons.
What a rousing conclusion to a marvelous tour-de-force chamber music concert! It is wonderful to hear "live" virtual music, but I wish I could have been present for many of these performances, especially the Kodály.