Some wit (or half-way so) has defined the oboe as "an ill wind that nobody blows good." That was obviously someone who was not in Carswell Concert Hall to hear oboist David Weiss play the Allegro movement of Dvořák's Sonatina in G. Weiss, formerly first chair oboist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was joined by three other top-flight artists on the Meredith College campus for the benefit of the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra.
Participating in the Dvořák piece was pianist Alpha Hockett Walker, who is also an accomplished oboist by training and performance. After the first movement, violinist Izabela Spiewak, solo performer and member of the Raleigh Symphony, came onstage to complete the Larghetto and Scherzo with all of the Bohemian charm that is so characteristic of that composer's music. All three players collaborated in that unusual manner to make for an altogether captivating experience.
The group opened with David T. Schwartz's arrangement of "Solvejg's Song," by Grieg. This brilliant offering set the quality tone for the evening. Joining in this piece was violist Yang Xi, Assistant Concertmaster of the Raleigh Symphony and also half of the Duo Appassionato, with Spiewak. That duo was a hit with the audience, particularly as they negotiated a Halvorsen arrangement of Handel's Passacaglia. The fireworks delivered here proved almost as exhausting for the hearers as for the performers. Xi's versatility as he readily alternated between viola and violin was a wonder to behold.
One of the pieces was especially poignant. Five Pieces for Oboe and Piano was composed by Charles F. Hockett (1916-2000), father of the pianist, for his daughter. Oboist and pianist (Weiss and Walker) performed these pieces as the DnA duo, with the utterly charming "Englisches Volkslied" movement as a folksong standout. Another work by Hockett was Barcarolle, for solo piano. Walker brought to this gorgeous, Brahmsian piece an appropriately vigorous and loving treatment.
A great deal of the evening was of a definitely lighter nature, with Weiss generally playing the jester. Early in the program he came out with the saw, his alternate instrument, and chased Duo Appassionato off the stage. The second version of DnA, piano and saw, then performed "To a Wild Rose," by MacDowell. The musical qualities of the saw, with cello bow, were nothing short of stunning. The instrument was a general purpose Handyman handsaw (manufactured by that well-known music firm, the Stanley Tool Company). Seven dollars well spent!
Who knew that a fiddle, when strummed, could sound like a banjo? Spiewak deftly demonstrated that phenomenon with the piece, "Banjo and Fiddle," by William Kroll. That same energy was present in Astor Piazzolla's "Muerte del Angel," with added viola and piano. His "Oblivion" showed the three players at their lyrical finest.
Otherworldly sounds were elicited by saw and piano (with piano strings manually strummed) in "Whispers from Another Time" by Dana Wilson, and also when piano, violin, viola and saw joined forces in Stravinsky's "Pastorale."
You couldn't ask for a more varied and delightful evening of heavy music, light music, and just plain fun music. The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra should always be so fortunate as to enjoy that quality of support.