From the Western End of North Carolina"
by Paul D. Williams
January, 10, 2010, Raleigh, NC: The Raleigh Chamber Music Guild, along with the North Carolina Museum of Art, hit upon a winning combination on a sunny, deep-freeze Sunday afternoon. Guild board member Barbara Freedman welcomed the Keowee Chamber Music group and introduced them to the sizable audience in the stately sanctuary of Temple Beth Or. This company, based in Asheville, is "committed to sharing the power, beauty and joy of live acoustic music with audiences of all ages." Participating were flutist Kate Steinbeck, violinist Emily Popham, violist Simon Értz and cellist Philip von Maltzahn.
When one thinks of chamber music, the name Rossini does not immediately spring to mind. But his Quartet No. 2 in A proved a worthy opener for the afternoon. The justly acclaimed flute artistry of Kate Steinbeck was prominent throughout. In the Allegro movement, the audience was treated to an early look at the string players, as each instrument took a solo turn.
Speaking of the string players, readers of these pages (along with other people of similar high discernment) will remember them as members of the splendid Degas Quartet. Two years ago that group appeared in an edition of Sights and Sounds on Sundays to great and merited applause. On that occasion they negotiated Bartók and Beethoven with the consummate skill that one usually associates with more "senior" world-class ensembles. So it was fitting that these three were called upon to collaborate in a string trio. As Értz pointed out, relatively little has been written for that combination since Beethoven's time. Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960) has compensated with his Serenade, Op. 10. This five-movement work contained a dreamy solo for viola, with pizzicato accompaniment by the other two. The Scherzo was playful, if somewhat unsubstantial. Then the Theme and Variations introduced appealing melodies that tugged at the heartstrings.
Perhaps the charmer of the afternoon was Debussy's Six Epigraphes Antiques. It seems that this piece has gone through various arrangements, maybe a testament to its charm. Bernard Chapron has transcribed it for flute quartet. Those who knew of it for piano four hands were in for a pleasant surprise. Each of the six movements has its distinct "personality." One invokes the god Pan while another declares it is for "un tombeau sans nom" ("tomb of the unknown"). Exotic lines celebrate a certain Egyptian, and yet another offers praise for the morning rain. It was all vintage Debussy and altogether pleasant.
Closing the program was a traditional work of Mozart. The season brochure and the program listed it as Quartet in D, K.289; it was in fact K.285. This solid piece was marked by the Adagio movement, in which the flute played a gorgeous solo as the other three instruments plucked their string accompaniment.
It is fitting that the Keowee players chose such a title to honor their namesake ancient village. The little place (actually located in northwestern South Carolina) now lies forever buried beneath who knows how many feet of water. The elegance that these players exhibit does great honor to its memory. Their enthusiastic audience here today would almost certainly agree.