Most concert series have a rubric to the effect that “All programs are subject to change.” That was the case for music lovers in the University of North Carolina School of the Arts‘ lovely Watson Chamber Music Hall who had expected a recital of viola sonatas highlighted by the fine example of the sonata by Rebecca Clarke. Instead, an interesting and eclectic program strained to fit the original program, French Connections: Part Deux. The ensemble Fire Pink Trio featured flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta, violist Sheila Browne (violist for the originally scheduled program), and harpist Jacquelyn Bartlett. Reuter-Pivetta is principal flute of the Greensboro Symphony and founding member of Fire Pink Trio, Browne is a member of the UNCSA faculty, and Bartlett is former principal harp of the NC Symphony.

Composer Adrienne Albert (b.1941) began her career as a singer who often collaborated with composers before taking up compositional studies leading to the creation of an eclectic and broad roster of works. “Doppler Effect,” for flute, viola, and harp (1993), is one of the composer’s most performed works. She has transcribed it for a dozen other combinations. The Fire Pink Trio played the original six-minute work. Albert was inspired to write the piece while sitting at a side walk café in Rome, Italy, imbibing the sensual atmosphere while the crazy traffic careened by her with its doppler effect. The pitch of car horns was high as they approached and lower as they receded.

Albert gives each instrument ample brief solos along with different pairings with a third instrument taking an accompanying role. Ostinato figures and melodic fragments are tossed between players. Reuter-Privetta’s flute tone was glowing and her trills were delightful. Browne’s viola ranged from a rich, throaty low to pure, focused highs. Her instrument projects into the hall very well. Bartlett’s glissandos and rhythmic pulse gave steady pleasures.

Charlotte native Dan Locklair (b.1949) is Composer-in-Residence and Professor of Music at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Many compositions in his large catalog are widely performed, nationally and internationally. Dream Steps (A Dance Suite for Flute, Viola, and Harp) (1993) was commissioned and premiered by the Mallarmé Chamber Players of Durham. Locklair planned it to function as a free-standing dance suite and as a chamber work to be danced in small spaces. Elements from Langston Hughes’ five-part poem Lenox Avenue Mural were the extra-musical inspirations for the work. Its five movements are: “Barcaroles and Recitatives, “Awakenings,” “Bars of Blues,” “Ballade in Sarabande,” and “Barcaroles.” Locklair uses an early German three-part (AAB) “bar form” along with quotes and variants on an old German chorale tune and two Negro Spirituals. A transposed Phrygian mode is juxtaposed against a Pentatonic scale in the first movement. The second movement plays the chorale tune “Wachet auf” against “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” The third movement, “Bars of Blues” toys with pitches used in I &II, a traditional 12-bar blues and bar form along with further use of “Nobody Knows.” The slow-paced fourth movement is based on a Lydian mode along with the melody from “There Is a Balm in Gilead” leading directly to the fifth movement, which recalls the evocative, flowing melodies of the opening movement.

Fire Pink Trio turned in a brilliant performance; each player displayed a broad spectrum of tonal color, dynamics, and rhythmic subtlety. In addition to plucked strings and shimmering glissandos, Bartlett played a percussion role by thumping on her harp in the fifth movement. Flutter-tonguing was just one of many virtuoso skills Reuter-Pivetta displayed. Browne’s warm tone was a constant delight, as were her pizzicatos. “Bars of Blues” is an immediate audience pleaser!*

Claude Debussy (1862-1918) was dying of cancer when he undertook to compose a set of six sonatas for various instruments in 1915, beginning with the Sonata for Cello and Piano. He completed only three before he died; the Cello Sonata was followed by the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp (1915), and he was unable to continue after finishing the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1917). Bartlett said Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp was the first for this combination. It is in three movements: “Pastorale” (Lento, dolce rubato), Interlude (Tempo di menuetto), and Finale (Allegro moderato ma resolute). Fire Pink Trio’s performance was a tour-de-force with Debussy’s so called “Impressionism” brought out beautifully. The tone and dynamics were refined, and the color palette was truly kaleidoscopic. The unusual instrumental combination limits its exposure to festivals or visits from Fire Pink Trio.

*Dan Locklair’s website indicates the superb 2 CD set Dan Locklair: Chamber Music (Troy 701/2) is still available from Albany Records US. Harpist Bartlett is among the Mallarmé Chamber Players who perform the many delightful selections. For a review of that set,.click here.