Coping with crisisThe pandemic may be raging across the world, but artists of all stripes continue to serve up creative offerings. Sunday evening, the Philharmonia of Greensboro, one of the music ensembles under the umbrella of Creative Greensboro, “the city’s office for arts & culture,” provided a 45-minute concert of chamber music. Ryan Deal, Chief Creative Economy Officer, greeted the audience, giving some background about Creative Greensboro and the Philharmonia of Greensboro, “a symphony orchestra [comprised of] volunteer musicians from the Greensboro area.”

Peter Perret, the music director of the Philharmonia, gave introductory remarks before each of the five ensembles performed. First up was the second movement (Menuet) from the Wind Quintet, Op. 43 (1922), by Carl Nielsen (Denmark, 1861-1931). Performing was the Cambiata Quintet (Nancy Thurston, flute; Susan Kundert, oboe; Roddy Terrell [substituting for John Walker], clarinet; Caroline Shogry, bassoon; Mary Sylvester, French horn).

The quintet is one of Nielsen’s most popular works. The perky, jovial opening is presented by the clarinet and bassoon and joined by the horn. The action passes to the flute and oboe, again joined by the horn. Then all play together. The entire group displayed good spirit, playing with rhythmic precision and fine ensemble.

The Aurdin Quintet (Katie Costello Graham and Jennifer Lane, violins; Theresa Fox, viola; Thomas Graham, violoncello; James Esterline, pianoforte) played the first movement of the Piano Quintet No. 2 in E-flat minor, Op. 26 (1941), by Ernő Dohnányi (Hungary, 1877-1960).

The dark, ruminating opening becomes livelier, with romantic swells and subsequent subsiding. Sometimes the strings spar with the piano, other times, more integrated textures are presented. The movement had wonderful changes in texture, brought into sharp relief by the quintet. The melodic material was not only for the 1st violin, but also sometimes passed to the viola. The musicians negotiated the many changes in tempo and mood smoothly. Sometimes in the excited passages, intonation was not perfect, but overall, the performance was effective and committed.

Josef Labor (Bohemia, 1842-1924) was the “least-well known composer” of the evening, according to Perret. He became blind because of smallpox at the age of 3, but that did not stop him from an illustrious career as a concert pianist and teacher. The second movement (Allegretto grazioso) from the Piano Quintet in A, Op. 11, was described as a “lilting piece.” The Measured Labor Ensemble (Meg Harrison, clarinet; Dawn Kouba, violin; Martha Shannon, viola; David Gilbert, violoncello; James Esterline, pianoforte) performed.

The somewhat melancholic mood was led by the clarinet, finely spun out by Harrison. The mood becomes more dramatic and leads to lots of sparkling solo playing by Esterline. The piece ends softly. It’s always good to hear something off the beaten path, especially when it as lovingly presented.

The Philharmonia String Octet (Katie Costello Graham, Jennifer Lane, Deborah Ross, and Georgia Kimbell, violins; Theresa Fox and Martha Shannon, violas; Thomas Graham and Otti Kerr, violoncelli) played the 2nd movement Andante of one of the cornerstones of chamber music: the String Octet in E-flat, Op. 20 (1825), by Felix Mendelssohn (Germany, 1809-47). Perret pointed out that the composer was only 16 when he wrote this “double string quartet” composition.

The movement is a somber one, with the primary melody first given to the lower strings and then picked up by the four violins. This is a thoughtful affair, and intonation wasn’t always perfect, but the heart-felt intensity of the composer’s intensions clearly came through.

The evening concluded with the Octet in F, D.803 (1824), by Franz Schubert (Austria, 1797-1828). The Philharmonia Schubertiade Octet performed (Meg Harrison, clarinet; Caroline Shogry, bassoon; Steve Bernstorf, french horn; Eve Hubbard and Sheryl Manz, violins; José Elias Muñiz, viola; Gustavo Antoniacomi, violoncello; Austin Propst, contrabass). FYI, a Schubertiade is an event held to celebrate the music of Franz Schubert.

The piece begins with a slow, solemn introduction. The main, fast section follows, characterized by an energetic dotted-note rhythm (long-short, long-short). The entire ensemble played these passages with drive, if not with perfect intonation. It seems clear that the clarinet is the main star, and Harrison was a good fit for the job. (It comes as no surprise that the work was commissioned by a clarinetist.)

This is a long and involved 15-minute movement, but the ensemble stayed committed to the task with some noteworthy solo violin and horn lines. The final, animated coda ended the evening of music-making in good spirits. Kudos and thanks go to these musicians (and Creative Greensboro) for offering us some “live” music relief during these harrowing times.