This Eastern Music Festival chamber music concert, as is often the case, explored some of the less familiar music territory including works by three Russians (Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Tchaikovsky) as well as a work written by an American in the last decade.

Opening the evening was Sonata in C for two violins, Op. 56, written by Serge Prokofiev (1891-1953) in the 1920s. This urbane, four-movement work is, in part, a study of the differing ways two melodic instruments of the same range can relate to each other. The opening soulful Andante cantabile, for example, utilized two independent lines, swirling around each other, sometimes phrases ending on the same pitch. Sort of like two birds flying with each other. The Allegro second movement began with four violent outbursts that led to sustained high energy. The slow third movement is poignantly song-like while the rowdy final rondo brings back motives from the previous movements. Tuesday night’s performers were Shawn Weil and Yuka Kadota; the duo played with terrific ensemble, no small feat given the sudden and frequent changes in mood and tempo. Intonation was right on, and the two perfectly projected both the fervent and lyric nature of the score.

While there was nothing particularly “Russian” in the Prokofiev piece, just the opposite was true of the Trio for clarinet, violin, and piano by Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978). This Georgian (USSR) composer is primarily known for his nationalistic style, his most famous piece being “Sabre Dance.” The Trio, written in the 1930s, provided a different lens through which to view the composer. The three-movement work was strongly played by Shannon Scott (clarinet), Diana Tsalovich (violin) and Yoshikazu Nagai (piano). 

The Andante first movement featured long sinewy lines, beautifully shaped by Scott and Tsalovich. Nagai’s pianism was solidly supportive with timbres reminiscent of Debussy and Fauré. The Allegro was more rhythmic while the Moderato brought folksy material to the forefront. Sometimes impertinent outbursts from the clarinet or violin added fun.

The only non-Russian composer of the evening was Andrew Beall, an American composer/percussionist living in New York City. He wrote his Rancho Jubilee for Cajon Trio in 1910. Beall explains in the program notes that the literal translation of the Spanish word “cajon” is box; it is also an instrument from Peru. The three percussionists were John Fedderson, Eric Schweikert, and John Shaw. Arguably the high point of the evening was the spirited performance of this infectious piece.

Feddersen introduced the piece announcing his retirement from the EMF after 35 years, and while he was explaining that his role was to fill up potentially boring dead-air space as the percussionists assembled their wares (instruments, mallets, etc.), he was cut short by the other two who had already brought out the music boxes, and he explained, they were going to “hit boxes with our hands.”

What an amazing array of sounds came from those three boxes — sometimes played in unison, but more often one taking the lead and the other two responding in like manner. The several rhythmic “grooves” of the piece subtly changed as the three percussionists explored an astonishing range of dynamics and colors. The large and attentive audience erupted in enthusiastic applause at the conclusion of the 8-minute work.

While Tchaikovsky was vacationing in Florence in 1890, he penned one of the main tunes for his four-movement String Sextet, Op. 70; he subsequently subtitled the work “Souvenir de Florence.” Compositions for six strings are not numerous in the literature — Brahms, Dvorák, and Schoenberg have contributed significantly, and, of course, Tchaikovsky, although “Souvenir” is not one of his most inspired compositions. The musicians — John Fadial and Anne Donaldson (violins), Daniel Reinker and Sarah Cote (violas), and Beth Vanderborgh and Marta Simidtchieva (cellos) — certainly were committed to a strong performance.

The opening movement revealed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the composition.  Often the six musicians played independent lines that sometimes resulted in a bit of a mish-mash of sound; other times three or four would provide accompaniment for one or two solos, resulting in a full, rich texture. This was especially noteworthy in the slow second movement, where Fadial lovingly offered a beautiful cantabile line that was equally warmly responded to by Vanderborgh. Reinker made the most of his lead work, especially in the last two energetic movements, where the Russian folk material was never far beneath the surface of the music.

Carnegie Chamber Music took place in the sanctuary of Starmount Presbyterian Church rather than in the Hege Library on the Guilford College campus, which is undergoing renovations. Unfortunately a hum from the air conditioner was noticeable throughout the evening. But that aside, the church provides a lovely setting — intimate and warm with clarity and good acoustics.