If the quality of performance displayed during the 2006-07 Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival continues into the future, a third night’s program might have to be added — and maybe even a fourth. The Festival expanded from one to two nights this season, and each evening’s performance drew a large and appreciative audience, and with good reason.

The finale of the current season, played April 12-13, was perhaps the most satisfying of all five programs — even more than the electrifying opening concert in August. Artistic Director Ara Gregorian finds talented young musicians to join him on stage in the renovated A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall on the campus of East Carolina University, and the players demonstrate passion, intensity, and an abundance of musical skill that are joyful to watch and hear.

The concluding program consisted of three piano quartets — Mozart’s Quartet in G minor, K.478; Turina’s Quartet in A minor, Op. 67; and Brahms’ Quartet in C minor, Op. 60. The variety offered a wonderful mix of classical, romantic and 20th century styles. The players — Gregorian of ECU, violin; Hsin-Yun Huang of the Juilliard and Mannes College faculties, viola; Colin Carr of Stony Brook University, cello; and Thomas Sauer of the Mannes
College and Vassar College faculties, piano — brought their love of the chamber repertoire to bear and provided some exquisite moments of music-making.

The first of Mozart’s two piano quartets (1785) opened with a forceful six-note figure that reappeared several times throughout the Allegro movement, some in unison, as at the beginning, and some with harmonies. The Andante movement opened with a lovely piano passage, soon joined by the strings, and included sections in which Gregorian’s lead violin line was complemented by Huang’s softly singing viola line before the two reversed their roles and the viola took the lead, supported by a softly singing violin; and all the while, Carr played an expressive cello line. The closing Rondeau movement, almost dance-like in its cheerfulness, included a particularly demanding piano part, filled with quick arpeggios, which Sauer executed with considerable finesse and warmth.

The two quartets are considered to be among Mozart’s very best chamber works, with scoring for the piano that resembles his piano concertos, and the musicians were in complete control of the demanding composition.

Spanish composer Joaquin Turina’s Piano Quartet from 1931 includes both melodic phrases and rhythms that reflect its composer’s nationality. This is not a harsh piece of early 20th century composition — after all, Turina studied in Paris under D’Indy, among others — but it does contrast nicely with the Mozart quartet.

The opening Andante mosso includes some structural similarities to the Mozart work in that the three string players carry the lead over a supportive piano line, followed by a lead piano passage over the support of the three string parts. The scoring also calls for the string players to pass lead positions from one to another. The lively Vivo movement contains an interesting minor-key progression of melody lines, perhaps the most Spanish-sounding of the three movements. The closing movement (Andante, Allegretto and Allegro molto) was highlighted by Gregorian’s expressive playing, followed by Sauer, and then Carr’s wonderful cello line over the violin and viola.

Turina scored several pizzicato passages, and, in the opening movement, a brief, ghostly ponticello technique, especially in the violin and viola parts, that did not become too thin or dry in the hands of these capable players.

Brahms’ oft’-revised Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60, brought the program to a magnificent close. This work, dating to 1855 but revised at least twice in the mid-1870s, more closely resembles a piano concerto than the Mozart quartet, so complex and intricate is the scoring. The piece has been described as possibly an autobiographical account of Brahms’ yearnings for Clara Schumann.

The opening Allegro non troppo contains both forceful phrases and song-like passages, majesty and grandeur, intimacy, and a near-hymn-like closing. The lively Scherzo moved from an emphatic opening featuring all four players to a spectacular closing that could have served as the ending for the entire piece.

The lyrical and lengthy Andante was the emotional and musical highlight of the evening. The movement was led by Carr’s cello over Sauer’s velvety piano line. Gregorian’s violin joined in and repeated the opening phrases, from which followed a lovely duet between Gregorian and Huang. Huang and Carr engaged in a similarly well-played duet, and they were joined by Gregorian before the close. The final Allegro comodo movement featured a great blend of the three string voices, with the most subtle piano line behind. The movement came to a quiet close, until the last few chords.

*We are delighted to introduce Steve Row, of Greenville, to CVNC. We’ve long sought representation in NE NC, and we are pleased to have found a person with such depth in criticism and journalism. For his bio, see About Us.