The Free Spirits Ensemble Unveils Composers
by Paul D. Williams
March 22, 2009, Holly Springs, NC: Perhaps it was the surpassingly beautiful Sunday afternoon combined with the classy setting of the Holly Springs Cultural Center that made for such a pleasant diversion. Or more likely it was the dedicated musicians from the Free Spirits Ensemble of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, along with their two honored guests, that did the trick. The guests, soprano Teresa Fernandez and guitarist Ed Stephenson, joined pianist Lanette Lind, clarinetist Jim Williams, and violinist Yang Xi of the Ensemble in an offering called “Composers Unveiled.” The Holiday Inn Express of Apex supported the afternoon’s presentation.
Two of the composers might have been subjects for “unveiling,” but the others had long since been brought to light. Richard Faith (b.1926) was one of the lesser-known pair. That composer’s Serenade for Clarinet and Piano opened the program with a fine traditional sound that could have passed for the work of any number of his predecessors. Then his Capriccio for the same instruments assumed a decidedly more modern and “capricious” spirit. Both pieces represented true chamber music as Lind’s piano and Williams’ clarinet played equal roles.
Faith was called upon again to close the program with the Fantasy Trio No. 1 for violin, clarinet, and piano. Here Yang Xi’s violin rounded out the trio. The opening “Andantino” was downright Mozartean with its gorgeous clarinet opening and that instrument’s ensuing dialog with the violin. In this rather large work, all players exhibited a level of musicianship and spirit that made for great artistry.
John Corigliano (b.1938) composed the Red Violin Caprices in conjunction with his score for the film, The Red Violin. The program notes pointed out that “[t]hese variations …evoke Baroque, Gypsy, and arch-Romantic idioms…” Such moods were powerfully traversed in this unusual piece by Xi and his solo violin.
The “veteran” composers were represented in a celebration of Spanish music by the two guests. Teresa Fernandez, who served as informal and witty program narrator, brought her expressive soprano to three of these pieces along with the superb guitar of Ed Stephenson. Her treatment of the “Tango” of Carlos Gardel (1890-1935), Agustin Lara’s “Granada,” and especially the Danza No. 5 of Granados (1867-1916) evoked memories of the finest cabaret singing techniques. Stephenson’s high level of skill was evident in the solo guitar works of Tárrega (1890-1909).
The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra, the Free Spirits Ensemble, and the Holly Springs Cultural Center (and Mother Nature!) all deserve praise for an outstanding afternoon.