The intimate Whitley Auditorium on the bucolic campus of Elon University had a good turnout for the Department of Music‘s first recital of the season. After two short appetizer works, pianist and veteran faculty member Victoria Fischer Faw announced this was the debut concert of the new Phoenix Piano Trio. She was joined by two new members of the faculty – violinist Dan Skidmore and cellist Meaghan Skogen. Skidmore teaches violin and viola at Elon University and Catawba College besides being assistant concertmaster of the Winston-Salem Symphony and a section violinist with the Greensboro Symphony. I first heard him when he was concertmaster for the undergraduate University of North Carolina Greensboro Symphony which played for David Holley’s prize-winning staging of Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. Skogen teaches cello and music theory at Elon, is a substitute with the Greensboro Symphony, and founding member of the Fibonacci Chamber Orchestra.

Visiting string quartets and the resident Ciompi and Borromeo String Quartets have kept the string quartets of Béla Bartók before Piedmont audiences. The composer’s other works are less often heard. Besides her active career as a performer and teacher, Fischer Faw has made a specialty of Bartók’s music, having written a number of publications including a chapter about the composer’s folk influences in A Bartók Companion (Cambridge University Press). Tibor Székely’s arrangement for violin and piano of the composer’s Romanian Folk Dances (1926) Sz. 56 for solo piano served as a fine showcase of Skidmore’s violin chops. Bartók collected authentic folk music throughout the Balkans and these six movements are pretty straightforward settings. Despite having the piano lid fully raised, Fischer Faw kept the beautifully restored 1923D Steinway in good balance with the violin while maintaining a stylish accompaniment. Skidmore produced a full, rich and heavily bowed “gypsy” sound in the opening “Stick game” movement. They brought out all the playfulness in the following fast and lilting “Sash” or “Peasant Costume” Dance. Skidmore’s intonation was perfect as he played eerie, high harmonics bowed close to the bridge. This was the highlight of this winning performance.

The Habanera for cello and piano (1926) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) gave ample scope for Skogen’s and Fischer Faw’s artistry. The Cuban dance is believed to have been brought to Spain by sailors where it has become closely associated with the culture. The “Habanera” sung by Carmen in Bizet’s opera is the most famous example. French composers have excelled writing “Spanish” music! Fischer Faw exquisitely captured Ravel’s elegance and pellucidity in the solo piano opening. Skogen combined a seamless, songlike line with a warm cello tone and rhythmic security.

The Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49 (1839) of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) received a good, solid performance of a standard interpretation of one of the composer’s most popular chamber works. There were fleeting moments during the opening movement when the piano came close to covering the strings. Midway through this movement one of the usual freight trains made its “subtle” passage on the nearby tracks with restrained horn calls. The second movement is a sad “song without words.” Here the players were perfectly balanced as they spun out the seamless musical line. Mendelssohn seems to have been “pixilated” and could score airy, diaphanous fairy music at the drop of a hat. The Phoenix players embodied this quality in the scherzo. The brilliance and dance-like quality of the finale was well brought out. We look forward to hearing these phoenixes arise and soar through the trio repertoire. Did someone say Haydn? Or how about an all Beethoven menu: the Kreutzer violin sonata, the A minor, Op. 69 cello sonata, and the Archduke piano trio?

Victoria Fisher Faw’s all Bartók recital from September 2002 is found here. A review of the locally recorded and produced CD of that program is found here.