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A standing-room-only crowd augured well for the debut of a new chamber music series sponsored by the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library. The Sunday afternoon concert took place in a large conference room in the basement of the library May 12. The concert was free to the public and the detailed, well-written program notes put the sparse efforts of too many university series and the NC Symphony's Great Artists Series to shame. Each piece on the program had notes prepared by one of the scholar-musicians.
Before the age of recorded music, people had to make their own or maintain a staff of musicians. As part of their education, ladies and gentlemen of the aristocracy and later the rising middle class were expected to master a musical instrument as part of a broad education and as a social necessity. People would gather socially and play chamber music. Composers wrote for this important market and popular works were arranged for small ensembles or keyboard. In the eighteenth century, a musician described as being an "amateur" usually had pretty good proficiency, unlike the current meaning of the word. It meant they played for the love of music but derived their income from other sources.
The Chapel Hill series was very much in the best sense of the "amateur" tradition. With the exception of one player who directs a private research group, all the artists were members of the science or medical faculties of Duke or UNC. Despite the time needed for their professions, they have actively maintained their avocation of music. Many have studied with members of the Ciompi Quartet and are active with chamber music workshops, and several are members of community orchestras such as the Durham Symphony, the Chapel Hill Philharmonia and the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle. Three are board members of the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild.
The works on the program were given in reverse chronological order. Reinhold Gliere's Eight Duets for Violin and Violoncello, Op. 39, the concert opener, were real rarities that proved to be delightful trifles. Each instrument took it in turn to play the melody and bass, and the differences of color and sonority were exploited. The Gavotte was an elegant dance and at times the sound of a rustic musette was evoked. The Cradle Song was a violin lullaby played over a gentle, muted cello bass. Each short duet has its unique charm. Philip Bromberg played the violin and Richard Clark, the cello, with only occasional intonation problems.
Beethoven's early String Trio in G, Op. 9, No. 1 gave an ample foretaste of the mature composer with sforzando attacks and abrupt changes in tempo. Jeffrey Krolik played some fine violin trills. Bromberg switched to a viola and produced a good, rich sound. Brusque, explosive cello dynamics were well executed by cellist Clark. The players managed the very fast tempo of the last movement valiantly.
Mozart is a cruel composer whose scoring provides no cover for the slightest problems with execution. It was very brave of the players to choose his String Quartet in C, "The Dissonant," K.465. The program thanked Ciompi cellist Fred Raimi for his role as coach for their performance. The players were Mark Furth and Johannes Rudolph, violinists, Larry Evans, viola, and Leonard Gettes, cello. While I don't suffer from perfect pitch, there were moments throughout that seemed on the edge although the players' love of the music was fully communicated. This was a very respectable achievement by non-professional musicians but was technically short of an off-night performance by one of the major quartets, such as the Guarneri or the Tokyo, who sometimes seem burned out and playing on auto-pilot.