What better way to conclude the Manning Chamber Music Series for the 2012-13 Season than with a smattering of Corelli, Brahms, and Schubert? This series, which is free and open to the public, features North Carolina Symphony musicians playing chamber works of varying instrumentation. The series is the result of a generous donation given by Sara Jo Allen Manning, and is one of the best ways to hear some quality tunes for those on a limited budget.

Dovid Friedlander, violin, and Leonid Finkelshteyn, bass, opened this program with Corelli’s Sonata No. 12 in D minor, “La Folia.” The two chose to skip the keyboard; Finkelshteyn played the continuo line alone. The result was an interesting change to Corelli’s original texture. While sometimes the harmonic depth was not present, the polyphonic focus shifted the conversational elements of the piece to the forefront. Occasionally the tempo was too quick to accommodate for some of the more awkward shifts required in the agile bass line, but the overall impression was very effective. The duo followed this piece with what can best be described as an encore, playing a little jazzy pizzicato number that delighted the audience further.

Brahms’ Trio for horn, violin, and piano, Op. 40 was up next, with Friedlander again on violin joined by Chris Caudill, horn, and Jeremy Thompson, piano. Differences in phrasing provided an interesting contrast between the musicians in this work. Friedlander capitalized on nuances and small details, while Caudill focused on the larger picture, bringing out the sweeping lines and emphasizing the broader dynamic swells. Thompson bridged the gap, somehow managing to complement details while supporting the ebb and flow. Brahms’ gift for metrical dissonance came to the fore in the last movement with a lyric triple figure overshadowed by insistent duple, and back again constantly. 

A program as strongly appreciated as this requires and certainly deserves careful planning. Unfortunately, the experience was compromised by poor house management. This series, while free, has been in high demand in the past. In an effort to avoid turning dozens away, concertgoers were asked to reserve seats. The process broke down when no provisions were made for a box office. A table with signage for will call and standby would have increased efficiency and encouraged orderly behavior, and opening the lobby prior to opening the house would have demonstrated sensitivity to the needs of some of the more elderly attendees. Standing outside for more than half an hour can be a real hardship to some.

Despite the logistical complications of the evening, the audience was more than satisfied with Schubert’s “Trout” Piano Quintet in A, D. 667. The reading was a rousing success. Friedlander and Finkelshteyn were joined by David Marschall, viola, and Peng Li, cello. The star of the quintet, not surprisingly, was the piano. Thompson introduced the piece, mentioning the predominance of the writing for the upper register, and the delicate tone that would have resulted when played on a period instrument. He practiced what he preached, playing with dynamic sensitivity and a graceful touch. The strings played with elegance, careful balance, and extraordinary communication. Timbre pairings within the texture acted as another highlight, especially the violin or viola and cello duets. The effect was impressive without sacrificing subtle finesse.