For the second concert of the Ciompi Quartet‘s Summer Chamber Music Series, Ciompi violist Jonathan Bagg was joined by flutist Laura Gilbert and pianist Molly Morkoski. This performance was the second of three this summer presented by members of the Ciompi Quartet, each held in the Kirby Horton Hall at Duke Gardens. In general, the music of this concert paired well with the venue – lush, colorful, and sometimes surprising. At first glance, the program was seamless, all 20th century “modern” composers…with a Bach Sonata thrown into the middle. The placement of this piece seemed to be an intentional choice, and it added an extra dimension to the audience’s understanding of the lyrical melodies that linked the program together. Remarking on the composers, Bagg noted the difference between the Mozart-dominated classical period and the diverse wealth of composers and styles of the modern period. Several lesser-known 20th-century composers were featured here, including Reynaldo Hahn of France and Mieczysław Weinberg of Russia.

As the title of this program, “A Lyrical Thread,” suggests, pieces of the program were chosen for expressive melodies and musical lines that transcend styles and musical eras. The genre of chamber music for piano, viola, and flute is slightly uncommon, so several duets were included, too. However, the texture of the trio, especially the juxtaposition between the viola and flute, was both aesthetically pleasing and interesting. This was the case in Hahn’s “Romanesque” for flute, viola, and piano, which begins with piano chords simply supporting an ornamented flute melody that is later joined by the viola. Before its close, the short piece set a lyrical and serene precedent for the music to come.

The common “thread” running from the Hahn selection to the following piece, Weinberg’s Trio for Flute, Viola, and Piano, was not immediately obvious. In stark contrast, this definitively modern trio is full of dark dissonance and tension. However, whether Weinberg’s melodies were consonant or dissonant, they were written and played with utmost expression. At times, the music is thick and abrasive, but other moments feature trickling notes, like water. The second movement in particular explores extremes of technique and register, such as Gilbert’s gripping flutter tonguing on her flute and Morkoski’s subsequent imitation on the piano. The third movement forms a web of repeating motives that build to an “in your face”-type ending.

Maritnů’s Sonata for Viola and Piano contained perhaps the most memorable melodies yet; Bagg and Gilbert captured the majestic and sometimes folk-like tunes with parallel, seamless phrasing. The second movement (Allegro non troppo) is colorful and playful, demanding vigorous technique – but the two musicians of course showed no signs of its difficulty.

Introduced by Bagg as a “post-Debussy” composer, Duruflé’s music closed the concert: the Prélude, récitatif et variations, Op. 3. The excitement in this piece was found in its phrases, vaulting higher and higher and becoming more intense with each repetition. Morkoski deftly handled the piano’s role of shifting moods in each section and variation, while Gilbert’s and Bagg’s expression was akin to storytelling. The lush overlapping melodies of this piece mirrored the outdoor surroundings of the gardens, bringing the concert to a close. There is one more opportunity to experience the Ciompi Quartet’s Chamber Music Series, and if this concert is any indication, it is not to be missed. See our calendar for details.