The Eastern Music Festival has two nights of chamber music featuring faculty musicians and guest artists. Monday night concerts are held in the intimate Tew Recital Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina Greensboro. At the most recent of these, two eclectic works by contemporary composers were sandwiched between pieces by Robert Schumann (1810-56) and Johannes Brahms (1833-97).

Schumann’s Fantasiestücke for Cello and Piano, Op. 73, opened the concert. It is one of some 40 works composed in 1849 alone, during a hyperactive three-year period beginning in 1847. The original featured clarinet but versions for cello or violin were arranged. It is in three movements: “Zart und mit Ausdruck,” “Lebhaft,” and “Rasch und mit Feuer.”

Principal cellist Neal Cary was ably partnered by pianist Marika Bournaki in a glowing interpretation that brought out the seamless “songs without words” qualities of Schumann’s melodies. Cary produced a rich, warm tone while Bournaki’s playing was a model of clarity. The lyrical melancholy of the first movement was conveyed beautifully. A highlight of the middle movement was a playful phrase taken up by cellist and pianist in turn. Both brought out the energy and soaring melodies of the finale with panache.

Next came Three Songs for violin and double bass by Andrea Clearfield (b.1960), an award-winning American composer of some 150 dance, operatic, chamber and other works including multimedia collaborations. Much of her music is inspired by her fieldwork documenting Tibetan melodies in the Himalayas. These “songs” were inspired by sensual love poems by Chilean poet Pablo Naruda.* The three selections are entitled “Body of a woman,” “The light wraps you,” and “Every day you pay.” This sensual, seamless study in sound was performed by violinist Fabián López and double bassist Joel Braun. Both played with immaculate intonation while exploiting the full tonal range of their instruments. The first movement juxtaposed the violin’s highs against deep, low ones of the bass. Sepulchral bass notes opened the second movement while the finale lacked nothing in violin trills and resonate bass pizzicatos.

“Omphalo Centric Lecture,” Op. 1 (1984), for four marimbas, by Nigel Westlake (b. Perth, Australia, 1958) ended the first half of the recital. The composer’s career began as a free-lance clarinetist who played in a number of bands. He is a successful composer, particularly of film scores. This work has become one of the most frequently performed works in the percussion repertoire. The marimba players were John Shaw, Matt Decker, Eric Schweikert, and Wiley Sykes. The strongly contrasted timbres and rhythms were fascinating, as were the constantly shifting patterns of player groupings, sometimes one against three, pairs against pairs, etc.

A masterpiece by Brahms, the Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, brought the concert to a deeply satisfying conclusion. His score evolved over three forms. The original cello quintet version was destroyed followed by a two piano version that was deep-sixed. Advice from Joseph Joachim and Clara Schumann led to the final version, juxtaposing a virtuoso piano part against a full string quartet. Its four movements are: Allegro non troppo, Andante, un poco Adagio, Scherzo: Allegro, and Finale: Poco sostenuto; Allegro non troppo. The masterpiece is the synthesis of Brahms’ achievement through his first maturity. The players were pianist Norman Krieger, violinists Jeffrey Mutter and Yolanda Bruno, violist Chauncey Patterson, and cellist Cary. The Yamaha piano’s lid was fully raised but Krieger managed to balance with the strings while still generating plenty of power. More delicate dynamics were used where apt. The players gave the outer movements plenty of vivid dramatic contrasts. The slow movement was given a ravishing, seamless melodic line. Besides the piano, Brahms played the viola. In the scherzo, Patterson’s full, rich viola was a constant pleasure. Earlier he blended with Bruno’s violin beautifully. Memorable were Cary’s dark pizzicatos and his solo marking the transition finale’s introduction. Brahms’ constant shifting of instrumental pairings where done superbly, Mutter’s many solo episodes were strongly characterized. A packed recital hall audience recalled the players multiple times.

*CVNC reviewer Roger Cope reviewed a June 17, 2005 Keowee Chamber Music Festival performance of the oboe and double bass version that involved a reading of Naruda’s poems in Spanish.

The festival continues! See our calendar for upcoming performances.