Music Carolina is the new name for the enterprising Carolina Chamber Symphony Players which was founded in 1992. By 2010 their programs had expanded to form the Carolina Summer Music Festival. This series of concerts in August is a welcome relief to addicted music lovers coming off the highs from such local series as the Eastern Music Festival or the Brevard Music Festival. Past festivals have made use of numerous venues around Winston-Salem including its churches and universities. This concert, sampling trios and duos from Beethoven’s early period, took place in the intimate Kulynych Auditorium* inside the Wake Forest University Welcome Center near the West Main Entrance of the campus.

Cellist Evan Richey and pianist Peter Kairoff opened the concert with the delightful permutations of Beethoven’s variations of Handel’s “See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. This was probably composed during Beethoven’s visit to Berlin in 1796. Its twelve variations were intended as a display piece for the composer/pianist but the cello is not without its charms. Kairoff performed with the baby grand Steinway’s lid one hole short of being fully raised, but he skillfully balanced with his string partner(s). Richey produced a full, rich tone as he agilely followed every twist and turn. Highlights were the explosive dramatic effect of the minor-mode scoring in Variation VIII and the wonderful canon in Variation X between Kairoff’s left hand and Evan’s cello in turn. Variation XII found the two pulling out the stops to humorously transform Handel’s martial theme into a giddy dance!

Violin Sonata No. 8 in G, Op. 30, No. 3 featured violinist Jacqui Carrasco and Kairoff. The three sonatas of Op. 30 were composed between 1801 and 1802 and first printed in 1803. It consists of three movements, jovial and lively allegros sandwiching a charming and subtle “Tempo di menuetto.” Balance between keyboard and violin was ideal. Carrasco’s intonation was excellent and her tone was warm. Both she and Kairoff brought out the strongly characterized rhythms and were in lock step during abrupt shifts of phrase. Carrasco spun out the disarmingly simple second movement melodic line seamlessly. Both brought out the infectious good humor in the fast paced finale.

Piano Trio in E-flat, Op. 1, No. 1 featured Kairoff, Carrasco, and Richey. The set of three trios in Op. 1, published in 1795, marked a substantial advancement in Beethoven’s style which he emphasized with its opus number. His Dressler Variations for keyboard, WoO63 was his actual first publication. These works were designed to display that a “hot new voice” had hit Vienna. Haydn’s trio model was expanded from three to four movements while the role of the strings was boosted from mere accompaniment to considerable equality with the keyboard.

Kairoff brought a crystalline clarity to the piano-dominated first subject while Carrasco and Richey added weight to the secondary theme. Repetitions were strongly characterized. The heart of the trio, marked “Adagio cantabile,” came off beautifully with Kairoff’s eloquent singing line being taken up and expanded by Carrasco and Richey in turn. The melodic line was spun exquisitely and seamlessly. The Scherzo was bustling with infectious high spirits with a delightful give-and-take between the three players. Its trio was gorgeous with Kairoff’s playful melody dancing above the strings hushed support. Teasing leaps from the piano led to the playful and sassy interplay of the finale aptly marked “Presto.”

*Kulynych Auditorium is a new venue to me, and I cannot praise it too highly from the point of view of music lovers who find sight lines and leg room a problem in too many halls. The intimate space is ideal for recitals by soloists to small chamber ensembles. The hall is pie slice-shaped with seats on curved, ever longer raised tiers. Imagine ancient Greek theater as a template. Each tier is about 4 feet deep, allowing ample leg room, with about a foot to spare to facilliate late arrivers. The height offset between tiers will give most an unimpeded view. Upper tiers have added seats which are offset from those below. Bravo!