The second concert of the Summer Chamber Music Series, Ciompi Quartet Presents, in the amiable Kirby Horton Hall on the grounds of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, featured Jonathan Bagg, viola, Laura Gilbert, flute, Gabriela Diaz, violin, Robert Burkhart, cello, and Molly Morkoski, piano. Adding the attraction was a brand-new piece by composer Eric Moe and visual artist Barbara Weissberger.

The concert opened with Serenade in G, Op. 141a, composed in 1915 by Max Reger, the German composer, organist, and teacher who spent most of his life in Leipzig. The serenade is cast in three movements. The first, marked Vivace, is a snappy, rustic tune introduced by the flute and woven in and out with the violin and viola and, after a few quiet pauses it skipped off with a happy ending. The second movement, Larghetto, begins with the three instruments in hymn-like harmony. A gentle melody is introduced and treated fugally and developed like a lullaby ending with just a touch of nostalgia. The third movement goes skipping along merrily. Gradually, the music slows and becomes quieter until ending with a whisper. These musicians played with the confidence and warmth of old friends.

Gabriel Fauré’s Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 45, was given a brilliant performance by Diaz, Bagg, Burkhart, and Morkoski. Especially demanding for the pianist and technically challenging for the individuals as well as for the unified ensemble, this group accomplished all. Fauré’s second Quartet begins with a burst of sound. The piano supplies powerful arpeggios while the string players sing out, in full voice, a rapturous cry. The main theme goes through a series of developmental techniques ending up in a relatively calm cadence. The second movement is a study in scales played at breakneck speed almost without stop or rest. The rolling feeling of this movement suggests it will go on forever. It doesn’t really even slow down much, but the movement does end with a firm cadence as if to say (rubbing its hands together), “There. That’s done.” The third movement, Adagio non troppo, is a relaxed and somewhat melancholy serenade. Opening with a reverent piano introduction to a viola solo, this movement soon engages the whole ensemble in an intricately developed theme and variations. The piano-viola sequence that opens the movement closes it in reverse order, quietly satisfied. The fourth movement, Allegro molto, greats us with another burst of sound and quickly engages some of the rapturous themes heard earlier, elaborately preparing the listener for a cadence less than what we have been led to expect, but none-the-less satisfying.

After intermission, the instrumentalists offered a brand new mixed-media piece by composer Moe and visual artist Weissberger, who were both present for the concert. The work takes its title from a passage in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost quoted, here from the program notes:

“For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, or remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.”

Designed as a succession of video tableaux synchronized with the music, this new piece was commissioned by Electric Earth Concerts; this was the world premiere. The video tableaux were not designed to illustrate the music, nor was the music composed to enhance the art of the tableaux. The tableaux and the music were created collaboratively as one piece over many years through conversations and shared experiences and explorations between the co-creators. Some of the slides were of familiar landscapes, objects, sites, etc., but some were not so familiar or were distorted in a variety of ways. The slides were grouped in three suggestive imaginings: I. Horizon Line, II. The Blue of Distance, and III. Vanishing Point.

The music is in modern idiom; slim, taught and rhythmically active. Some was pleasant to listen to, some was disturbing, some was sad. The same was true with the slides. So the point was that listening to this music and looking at these tableaux was intended as a unified experience. The feelings and fantasies encountered in this experience constituted the aesthetic goal. It may have been different for every participant but could have also been perfect for each. It could have been a powerful encounter and sorting-out of the real and the false, the lonely and the intimate, the awesome and the trivial, and so on. For me it was concurrently an aesthetically pleasing experience.

This is the eighth season that the Duke University Department of Music and the Ciompi Quartet have presented the Ciompi Quartet Presents Summer Chamber Music Series featuring performances by Ciompi musicians and guest artists known for excellence in artistry and musicality. These special summer performances continue to offer musical eloquence at the Gardens and in one of the most enchanting settings found there, Kirby Horton Hall. On Tues. Aug. 6, 2019, Eric Pritchard and James Tocco will perform a recital featuring three sonatas by master composers. See our calendar for details.