Chamber Music Review

Carolina Summer Music Festival Presents Melodious Rarities at Reynolda House

August 23, 2009 - Winston-Salem, NC:

The Carolina Summer Music Festival is presenting its second season and helping give music addicts and music lovers a welcome fix during the doldrums between the end of the major summer music festivals in July and the beginning of the new concert season in September. Their Program, presented in the intimate Babcock Hall of Reynolda House, was overflowing with rarities, both in composers, in scores, and in combinations of instruments. The performers were tenor Glenn Siebert, pianist Peter Kairoff, flutist Elizabeth Ransom, and violinist Jacqui Carrasco. Kairoff and Carrasco (a co-artistic advisor), are based at Wake Forest University. Festival co-artistic director Ransom is a member of the Winston-Salem Symphony while Siebert teaches voice at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

The program only listed the works played and the musicians' biographies. An insert gave full texts for the two song cycles given. Phil Archer, Director of Public Affairs at Reynolda House, spoke briefly from the stage placing the poetry of A. E. Houseman in the context of both a longing for the rural life of England in the shires lost during unrestricted industrialization of the nineteenth century and the massive loss of a generation in the fields of Flanders in World War I. This was a major influence upon the British Pastoral Composers as well as such writers as J. R. R. Tolkien and Kenneth Grahame.

The concert opened with Hannah's Glade for flute and piano by the prolific composer Gary Schocker (b. 1959), a flutist who was a winner of the 1985 Young Concert Artists Auditions.
There is nothing wildly avant garde or of stale academia in the largely melodic and pastoral piece. It begins with a simple, plaintive tune that grows in complexity for both instruments.
Kairoff kept the keyboard reined in, never covering Ransom's constantly shifting line. Ransom's articulation was clear and crisp no matter how rapid. Attacks were precise and her use of dynamics was subtle and wide-ranging.

Before playing a selection of songs and solo piano works by Edward MacDowell (1860-1908), Kairoff spoke about the composer's fall from world-wide fame in his lifetime to obscurity until recent times. In his day, the handsome American composer and piano virtuoso was compared to Franz Liszt, sometimes to that European lion of the keyboard's disadvantage! There were MacDowell Societies in America and Europe. The cause of his decline in acclaim is immediately evident in the all-too-Victorian style of the poetry by Margaret Wade Campbell Deland (1857-1945) that MacDowell used for his song cycle From an Old Garden, Op. 26 as well as the charming period vignettes of his solo keyboard works. Like a Victorian parlor filled with overstuffed, ornate furniture and knickknacks, Deland's poetry contrives to use flowers as metaphors about the travails of love and death. MacDowell's music towers over his source of inspiration. The piano writing is gorgeous and Kairoff made the best possible case for it both as a sensitive accompanist and as soloist. Siebert's warmed toned and perfectly supported tenor voice was paired with flawless diction. The best known of the composer's four solo piano works played was "To a Wild Rose," Op. 51, No. 1, but my favorite was "Impromptu (The Hummingbird)," Op.46, No. 11. In forward acceleration it resembled "The Minute Waltz'" with sudden shifts in dynamics and speed perfectly capturing the darting flight of a hummingbird about flowers.

One of my favorite works is On Wenlock Edge for tenor and piano quartet by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1890-1959). This six-song cycle is set to poetry from A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Houseman (1859-1936). The Festival's selection by the composer, Along the Field (1927, revised and published in 1954) was a revelation. It also uses Houseman's first published book of poetry. Eight of the nine songs were performed. The texts' lonely meditations upon doomed youth in an idealized English countryside feature the voice supported with only a solo violin. Glenn Siebert's glowing timbre and flawless care for each word's meaning and pronunciation were perfect for these works. Who could have guessed what shimmering invention and contrapuntal mastery could be revealed by the spare and true violin line woven by Carrasco? This was a major discovery that deserves to be widely known and performed.

The Promenades by Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959) was originally composed in 1939 for harpsichord, flute, and violin and is very much in neo-classical style. It made the perfect sorbet dessert to end the rich menu of Vaughan Williams. Kairoff played the piano instead of a harpsichord but carried it off with an agile and light touch. He, Ransom, and Carrasco brought out all the playfulness and delicate scoring of the piece. Bravo!