This program at Church of the Nativity was one of an occasional series called Spirituality in the Arts featuring Aurora Musicalis, today consisting of North Carolina Symphony Concertmaster Brian Reagin, violin, Jimmy Gilmore, clarinet, Elizabeth Beilman, cello, and Kent Lyman, piano. The two founding members of the ensemble, Gilmore and Beilman, are communicants in this fellowship, and the church periodically sponsors this series of concerts. Aurora Musicalis is a diverse chamber music ensemble composed of a variety of members of the North Carolina Symphony and other distinguished artists.  Founded in 1991, the ensemble has performed widely in the Triangle and garnered considerable critical acclaim.  They produced their first CD, Echoes of America: Chamber Music of America (Albany) in 1998.

On this day admission was free; a basket at the door invited and welcomed contributions.  The title of the series reminded one of Albert Schweitzer’s words from his two-volume study of Bach, “All great art, even secular, is in itself religious in his (Bach’s) eyes, for him the tones do not perish, but ascend to God like praise too deep for utterance.”  Many who are deeply moved by great music know this already by instinct. The program this afternoon, reflected on the friendship between Robert and Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms and how that spiritual bond enriched the art of all three.

First on the program was Schumann’s Fantasy-Pieces for clarinet and piano, Op. 73.  The pieces involve a dizzying interplay between clarinet and piano, sometimes in conversation, sometimes dancing together. Opus 73 (at Schumann’s suggestion) is also frequently performed by violin or cello.  For the clarinetist one of the demands of the piece is finding a place to breathe between the long runs of notes.  Schumann, as was his intentional habit, wrote his tempo and dynamic markings in German rather than the traditional Italian.  The last part is marked Rasch und mit Feuer (quickly and with fire) and in the score, toward the end, Schumann writes schnell (fast) and then mehr schnell (still faster). Gilmore and Lyman ended the dazzling performance breathlessly.  The appreciative audience may have felt a little breathless, too, and was certainly awed by this marvelous performance.

For the rest of their lives, after the untimely death of Robert in 1856, Brahms and Clara remained the best of friends.  Clara was Brahms’ most trusted and valued critic.  He altered or rewrote some pieces following her suggestions, but when she heard the Trio No. 3 in C minor, Op. 101 (erroneously listed in the program as C Major), she had nothing but effusive praise.  Brahms was in his full creative maturity, secure in his skills and accomplished in his art.  This masterpiece, performed today by Reagin, Beilman and Lyman, ranges from near orchestral power to intimate sweetness.  It opens with a bold statement that reminded me of the opening of the First Piano Concerto and unfolded along stately lines to warmth and beauty.  The second movement, presto, hinted at the well-known fourth movement melody of the First Symphony,yet was light and lively.  The third movement, almost child-like, is rendered as a lullaby and ends with a firm two chord quick cadence.  The final movement has punch with a touch of gypsy dance and some lively syncopation while avoiding brute force.

The performance demonstrated the balance, ensemble and interplay of friends, and that is what gives chamber music its satisfying pleasure of intimacy and delight.  It is also a joy to see with lucidity how these great composers worked out the challenges of form and development with often clever and innovative creativity.

Watch the CVNC calendar for the next performance of Aurora Musicalis, and don’t miss it.