The August doldrums are trying times for music lovers addicted to music in live performance. The Carolina Summer Music Festival, presented by the Carolina Chamber Symphony Players, brings a much needed “fix" for classical music junkies. This third festival season opened in the intimate Babcock Hall of Reynolda House with a wide ranging menu of works spanning from nineteenth century European and American works to some unusual Twentieth Century Irish songs. The able artists were: pianist Peter Kairoff from Wake Forest University, soprano Jodi Burns (a fellow of the University of North Carolina A. J. Fletcher Opera Institute), tenor Glenn Siebert of the UNCSA faculty, along with horn player Joseph Mount and flutist Elizabeth Holler Ransom, both members of the Winston-Salem Symphony.
Soprano Burns opened the program with two unusual songs which called for the unusual accompaniment of both piano and horn. The text of "Le Jeune Patre Breton" by Hector Berlioz (1803-69) is a young Breton shepherd's wistful recalling of a tender love song he sang to his sweetheart, the mountain shepherdess Anna, where distance transforms his song into a sigh of mixed pain and pleasure. The early song, "Alphorn (1878)," by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was inspired by the virtuosity of his father on the horn. The song of longing for the mountains as embodied by the sound of the alphorn is lyrical and pastoral in its outer sections and more impassioned in the center beginning in the third stanza. Jodi Burns' solid operatic training showed in the robust power of her voice and the evenness of her vocal line across its range. Her intonation was superb, her diction in both languages was excellent and her timbre was warm and pleasing. Peter Kairoff's accompaniment was perfectly judged and executed. Joseph Mount's horn playing was a model of tasteful restraint; carefully balanced so as not to cover the soloist, and a refined palette of color. He followed Berloiz's instructions for the horn player to leave the stage for the later stanzas to suggest the effect of distance in the mountains.
Peter Kairoff's mastery of Nineteenth Century style was amply displayed in his two selections by American composers modeled upon European forms. Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) modeled his Impromptu, Op. 46, No. 11after Schubert and his Traumerei, Op. 46, No. 9 after Schumann. Chopin was the model for the Valse Gracile, Op. 49, No. 3 by Horatio Parker (1863-1919). Kairoff's articulation of the fastest passages was excellent as were his seamless lines of whirling melodies. Kairoff mentioned Parker never "got" one of his students, Charles Ives, but Ives deeply appreciated the depth of preparation he received from Parker.
Ten selections from Die Schöne Müllerin song cycle by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) only whetted the appetite to hear tenor Glenn Siebert do the whole cycle. Siebert's years of experience showed in his choosing to gauge and reduce the power of his voice for performing art songs in an intimate space. His winning timbre was combined with aptly dramatic phrasing, exact intonation, and flawless diction. Whether painting the ever-flowing stream in sound or conveying the steady rhythm of the waterwheel, Kairoff's keyboard accompaniment was superb.
Flutist Elizabeth Ransom said she had always wanted to program the "Introduction and Variations on 'Trockne Blumen'" by Franz Schubert on the same program with the 18th song from Die Schöne Müllerin. The piece for flute and piano begins with an introduction, leading to the statement of the theme from the song, followed by seven variations. Ransom's flute playing was wonderfully focused. Her breath control, her intonation, her articulation of fast passages, and her kaleidoscopic range of tone color were superb. Kairoff's accompaniment matched her every turn.
The concert ended with Four Irish Songs composed by Havelock Nelson (1917-96). The composer was conductor of the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra and he composed these pleasing arrangements of folksongs for a husband and wife team of horn and soprano with piano accompaniment. The songs were "Lovely Jimmie," "Poor Auld Ass," Lovely Armory," and "Linking O'er the Lea." The first and third songs are typically sentimental about lost loves while the second and last are humorous. The fine vocal qualities of her opening performance of Berlioz and Strauss were present in Jodi Burns' expressive and witty delivery of these melodious tunes. Kairoff's and Mount's horn were ideally scaled to match Burns. The hit was the second song in which, as Mount had quipped, the horn got to play the ass!