“It’s still not icy, … edgy, … scary enough!” Music Director Randoph Foy stage-whispered almost confidentially to the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra during the last-minute rehearsal we were privileged to observe from the back of NCSU’s Student Center Ballroom. Great acoustics! The musicians polished that spot several times until it was perfectly frightening, so as to represent the essence of the poetry that inspired the second of three offerings of “night music.” “That was beautiful. Finally, at the last minute we are making music,” the conductor said, encouraging and complimenting his musicians in a satisfied tone, as if he had expected it all along. Members of this orchestra who are students at NCSU get credit for their efforts. The ranks are augmented by accomplished players of amateur status from the community and additional professional players, as required. The RCCO is supported by the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association and NCSU.

We heard the RCCO rehearse Piccola musica notturna (Little night music) (1954) by Lugi Dallapiccola. It was the second work on the program, darker than the other two numbers in a program cleverly entitled “An Afternoon of Night Music.” Here, from the program, are the last two lines of the poem by Antonio Machado y Ruiz (1875-1939) that inspired the Dallapiccola, in an English translation by Willis Barnstone:

I walk through this ancient village
alone, like a ghost.

Foy explained that these lines are meant to be unsettling, and indeed the pitch never settles, and the rhythm and tempi are unsettled as well, as the music conjures up psychic images of inner turmoil. “Dallapiccola’s works strive to balance the formal clarity of (12-tone) serialism – the ‘Northern style’ of Schoenberg and Webern – with what has been called the lyric warmth and delicate colorings of the Mediterranean outlook.” So read Foy’s well-organized and attractive program notes, illustrated with photos of the three composers. The work was enchanting, and it was difficult to tell when it was over, the audience being so engrossed in the spirit of the thing. The conductor did not hint at the ending with his body language, although once we learned his style, by the finale, we realized he had always gestured with a slight indication. A long pause led to sincere applause.

The program opened with a delicate, cultivated sound in the tradition of high society music from the era of court musicians. Actually it was a delightful personification of Haydn – his sound! They played his Symphony No. 8 in G (“Le Soir”) (“Evening”) (1761). This work, Foy explained, was written at the suggestion of Prince Paul Anton during Haydn’s trial period as Kappelmeister in the court of the Esterhazy family, was designed especially to feature the work of noted soloists of Haydn’s day in the style of a concerto grosso. Prince Paul Anton helped Haydn hire additional quality musicians in order to ensure his success in the employ of his brother, Prince Nicholas.

The program got off to a light-hearted start. The performance of the Haydn by the RCCO was cultivated as if for the Hungarian nobles who had inspired it. The conductor related that the first movement of “Le Soir” was discovered by a musicologist to be a “take-off” on a song by Gluck that would have been recognized in its day and amused its audience. The second movement is delicate, and the third would inspire minuet dancers, but the fourth, “La Tempesta,” represents an evening thunderstorm, including raindrops, lightning bolts, and torrents of wind and water at the end. It was fun to follow the program music. The raindrops could be visualized, and the lightning bolts’ musical line may have been jagged, like a sketch of lightning, but since the instrument depicting the latter was a gentle flute, this required a stretch of the imagination, and even full chamber orchestras don’t produce much of a torrent. Nevertheless, this delightful program music was well-played.

The work after the intermission was Zoltan Kodály’s “Summer Evening” (“Nyári este”) (1906, rev. 1929). As described from the stage, some of it is like a still life and other sections are lively. I even heard shades of jazzy blues nightlife. The horn figures prominently and was beautifully played. A haunting melody from the oboe is repeated by the clarinet, and another theme is tossed around among various instruments. The announced description fit: the music conveyed “a magical feeling in the sense of twilight.” Foy mentioned that the piece is seldom played, so in view of the lovely preview of evening that the audience had on a Sunday afternoon, listeners can only hope for a revival of Kodály’s “Summer Evening.”