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Chamber Music Review

Lincoln Center's Chamber Music Society Visits UNC

April 12, 2002 - Chapel Hill, NC:

Going, going, gone.... Memorial Hall breathes its last in its present state next weekend, but the Carolina Union's Performing Arts Series abandoned it effective April 12 when it shifted its penultimate offering of the current season to Hill Hall. The occasion was a visit by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, or part of it: six artists, all with considerable name recognition, offered a short program that consisted of Schoenberg's Transfigured Night , given in its original (1899) string sextet version (the perhaps-more-familiar orchestral editions, of which there are two, were created much later),and Schubert's C Major String Quintet. The artists were the Kavafian sisters, Ani and Ida, who this time around both played violin, violists Paul Neubauer and Roberto Diaz, and cellists Fred Sherry and Ronald Thomas. This happens to have been the lineup for the Schoenberg, with which the program began--after a longish wait and a fundraising commercial for the renovation of Memorial, being called "The Transformation." An additional $500,000 or so is still needed to complete the project, and donations are welcome. For details, see http://www.dev.unc.edu/development/news/memhall.htm; and for a schedule of last-gasp events, see http://www.dev.unc.edu/development/news/closingevents.html.

Transfigured Night works best in the chamber version presented on this occasion. The textures are bolder, and in Chapel Hill the dynamics were breathtaking. Several well-known professional musicians were in the audience, and they seemed impressed. The sound was surprisingly good, given Hill Hall's acoustical quirks. The orchestral platforms that generally occupy the space between the stage and the audience had been removed, but the first two rows of seats had not been replaced, so there was some distance between the artists and the audience. An eight-part shell helped focus the sound, however, and the net result was that that sound was far better than is usually the case in this venue. The Schoenberg, played with considerable animation, was gorgeous, but for reasons not altogether clear it did not engage this listener emotionally to the extent it has on other occasions. The visitors certainly did not appear to be tired, but they can probably play this music in their sleep.

Schubert's Quintet involved all these players except Neubauer; Ida Kavafian "led" the performance, and Sherry took the second cello part. This quite divine score received a wonderful reading, but one must wonder why the ensemble chose to omit the first movement repeat. We're not fanatics about this sort of thing, but experience has shown that Schubert knew what he was doing when he called for repeats. Despite the fact that the Quintet is exceedingly well known (and has been performed "live" here with some frequency), it and other Schubert works can, it seems to us, actually seem longer when the repeats are omitted, and it's a fact that the great first movement repeat helps engage listeners and draw them into the magic of the piece. That said, the public's response was warm. The artists were rewarded with protracted applause, and as it turned out--given the late start and a extended intermission--the event managed to consume a full two hours.

The last Carolina Union Performing Arts Series event of the current season will involve the Gyuto Monks, a Tibetan Tantric Choir, and will be presented at University United Methodist Church on April 25. For details, see our calendar.