The local Moravian musical roots have always been sampled by the biennial Magnolia Baroque Festival. Works by Johann Friedrich Peter (1746-1813) were often featured on the first three season’s programs which mined the resources of the local Moravian Archives in Old Salem. A National Endowment for the Arts American Masterpieces grant has allowed this Fourth Festival to present six of Peter’s String Quintets in a series of three matinee concerts in the intimate Gray Auditorium in the new Visitor’s Center in Old Salem. Each concert will be preceded by a brief lecture by local scholars placing Peter in the context of the local Moravian settlement, his life, and his works.

According to Nora Reed Knouse’s fine program note, “Peter was born in Heerendijk, Holland, to German Moravian parents.” His education was in Moravian schools in Holland and Germany. Most important for his future life and his role in music was his extensive copying of scores of European composers while he was in seminary. These he brought to Pennsylvania in America in 1770. Some of his copies are the only known surviving copies of the works. When Antal Dorati recorded the complete symphonies of Franz Josef Haydn, Symphony No. 17’s score only survived in the Old Salem Moravian Archives. Peter gave the American premiere of Haydn’s Creation oratorio in Philadelphia from one of his copies. After making a second copy of the score, he gave the second performance in Salem. I saw that hand written copy in the Moravian Archives during a previous festival.

C. Daniel Crews, Archivist of the Moravian Church, Southern Province, gave the first brief talk placing Peter in the context of a typical Moravian town. While initially open only to Moravians, Crews stressed the tolerant, ecumenical attitude of the Moravians. The church owned the land and leased it to members. As an example of the obsessive record keeping of the Moravians, he recounted an answer to an inquiry about how many feather beds did the tavern have in 1784. The records indicate three which were green. The list recorded also a half bucket of manure! The local Collegium Musicum not only played for church functions but also for their pleasure and secular concerts.

The featured works on this first matinee survey of Peter’s String Quintets were No. 1 in D and No. 2 in A. In between, two brief solo Anthems were given. The string performers were violinists Julie Andrijeski and Johanna Novom, violists Daniel Elyar and Karina Fox,* and cellist Brent Wissick. Andrijeski led the first quintet and Novom led the second. Soprano Jeanne Fischer and organist John O’Brien joined the ensemble for the anthems.

Peter’s First Quintet is pleasant enough with listenable if not always memorable tunes. There wasn’t extensive development. Most often the violins would take up a tune and it would be taken up in turn by the others. Sometimes parts were separated as each took up the tune like entering elements of a canon. The second and third movements were much more winning on first hearing. The ensemble played with great precision and sensitivity on period instruments. Intonation was wonderfully exact and the blending and solo sound of the instruments was glowing and warm.

The two Anthems were “Ich will immer harren” (“I’ll always hope in you”) and “Ich will mit euch ein ewigen Bund machen” (“I will make an everlasting covenant”). UNC Chapel Hill-based soprano Jeanne Fischer’s focused and pure toned voice delivered the brief texts with superb diction. Peter’s instrumental accompaniment was more immediately appealing than the First Quintet’s scoring.

The tunes and their treatment in the Second Quintet augur well for those in the next two concerts. There was more opportunity for solos as well as more complex and interesting scoring for the strings. Overall, although these works are for five strings, Peter, in these two quintets, treats them almost like a trio, the two violins, the cello, and the two violas as three musical lines.

FM 88.5 WFDD, the local NPR and Triad Arts station, is recording the festival concerts for delayed broadcast on the station. Nationally they will also be heard on the Performance Today series.

*Edited, corrected 6/19/10