Chee-Yun’s October 31 violin recital, part of the Classical Concert Series in Southern Pines, was eagerly anticipated by many music lovers. Popular as a long-time core member of Charles Wadsworth’s Spoleto USA Chamber Music Series in Charleston, SC, and a member of its national touring ensemble, Chee-Yun has previously given solo recitals and made orchestral appearances in the Piedmont. Her last concerto appearance, with the NC Symphony in UNC’s Memorial Hall, was a sellout.

This concert marked the series’ return to the restored Sunrise Theatre. This intimate space of barely 300 seats was where I first discovered this series. Successful subscription sales led to its move for several years to Owens Auditorium at Sandhills Community College. It has some 700 seats but uneven acoustics.

The first half of Chee-Yun’s program was ideal for Francophiles. Her French Violin Sonatas CD (Denon CO-75625) is still one of the jewels of her discography, so a live performance of two of them was most welcome. Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (1917) was the third of a proposed set of six sonatas for different instruments and the last completed by the terminally ill composer. Characteristic aspects of his impressionist style are melded with elements of jazz and a renewed classicism. It has sections with chromaticism and rhythmic ambiguity, and it offers a kaleidoscope of colors. Gabriel Fauré’s Sonata No. 1 in A, Op. 13, has plenty of passionate melody in its first movement, with mutual imitation by both instruments. The second movement’s moments of pathos give way to a mood of serenity. The third movement bursts with energy and vigor, and the finale rarely slackens its vigorous rhythmic impulse. Chee-Yun’s undaunted virtuosity as she whipped her bow across the strings or applied a wide range of plucking methods to her Cremonese violin (Francesco Ruggieri, 1669) left this reviewer awestruck. Throughout the evening, no matter how extreme, the exposed notes were exactly centered – her intonation was always perfect. What a myriad of color and timbre effects, notes bowed near the bridge, muted strings, open strings, eerie harmonics, and resonant pizzicatos she produced! With the piano lid on the short stick, there was never a question of a balance problem. Indeed Akira Eguchi, her longtime accompanist, could have been faulted for occasionally being too self-effacing, but his playing in the Debussy was memorable.

Several short pieces on the program were scrapped to make a far more interesting all-Saint-Saëns second half. The “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” Op. 28, and the Violin Concerto No. 3 in b minor, Op. 61, were composed for the Spanish virtuoso Pablo Sarasate, which accounts for the Iberian flavor found in both. Chee-Yun’s fearless and spectacular attacks in the “Introduction” – not least the triple stops leading to the coda with its continuous semiquavers – ignited the audience’s enthusiasm, which had been strangely muted during the brilliant opening portion of the concert. These days it is almost unheard-of to find a major violin concerto played as a violin and piano duo. Eguchi’s restrained but elegant accompaniment allowed every detail of the solo part to be heard. With well-chosen tempos and stylish phrasing, Chee-Yun’s passionate exposition swept the audience off its feet. Hearty applause was rewarded with a seamless and soulful “Vocalise” by Rachmaninov, played from memory. In the spirit of Halloween, Chee-Yun wore a peacock feather mask provided by board member Martha Hall.

After the concert, Chee-Yun autographed programs and CDs. She told us that she would be back for Spoleto Festival USA for week one beginning May 30. Her website is [inactive 10/09].

This is the last season planned by Bill and Martha Hall, who made this one of the more impressive series in the state. Now the Arts Council of Moore County has taken over the series, and Executive Director Chris Dunn has already completed the 2006-2007 concert schedule. This series sells out on subscription; call 910/692-4356 for more information.