The lovely old plantation home that is Cherry Hill, near Inez, in Warren County, has long hosted Sunday afternoon concerts in the fall and spring (but not in winter, since the place doesn't have central heat!). It's a pleasant drive from the Triangle, and the artists have included visitors and mainstays from UNC, Duke, the NCSA, and Davidson. Alas, Edgar Thorne has passed from the scene, and his sisters – who used to provide homemade cakes and cookies for the receptions – have departed, too. But the series continues, under the auspices of the Cherry Hill Historical Foundation, and the spokesperson on the afternoon of October 9, when violinist Richard Luby and pianist Thomas Otten gave a recital of sonatas by Prokofiev and Franck, was the distinguished historian and scholar William Price, so long-time fans of music at Cherry Hill may be assured that the place is in good hands.
The venue itself is charming, although the sightlines are a bit of a challenge. Still, there's a full-size Steinway grand in the foyer, and attendees can position themselves to see through doorways and from the elegant stairs leading to the second floor. It's somewhat akin to house concerts in the best possible sense, and it's a wonderful way for listeners to be much more in touch with the artists and the music than is possible in more formal concert settings in larger facilities.
Luby has long been one of our superior violinists and teachers, and it's a pleasure to report that he's playing better than ever. He introduced Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No. 1, in f minor, Op. 80, with keen insight, describing its wartime evolution, and played with a remarkable combination of brilliance and depth of feeling. He was fortunate to have the comparably brilliant Thomas Otten as his partner. Otten has enriched the musical life of the Triangle with some awesome solo recitals – a new CD of his magnificent Liszt transcriptions program was available for sale at this concert – and he's a splendid collaborator, too. It was deeply rewarding to watch them work together, to hear, for example, the solid but discrete underpinnings Otten provided for Luby in restrained passages – and then to hear the keyboard erupt and soar in sections when the violin was silent. This sort of close collaboration remains a relatively rare and always very special thing, and it was moving to encounter it on this occasion.
There was more of the same in Franck's famous Violin Sonata, which is known also in a version for cello and piano. The violin-and-piano original works best, in my view, and there are few great fiddlers who have not undertaken it across its nearly 120-year lifespan. Luby played it in a refreshingly old-fashioned way, which is to say that there were touches – hints, as it were – of a style of playing that is no longer heard routinely today. It wasn't a throw-back by any means, and the interpretation didn't wallow in sentimentality, but the violinist mashed all the right buttons, and as a result he – and the music – impressed throughout. So, too, did Otten, whose exemplary keyboard work was right on the money – and completely in keeping with Luby's view of the score. Under these circumstances, the comparative brevity of the program – the music totaled just a shade over an hour – was not a problem, for there was emotion aplenty during the quite intense readings. The small audience demonstrated its appreciation and continued to do so during the post-concert reception.
This program will be repeated in Hill Hall on 10/15. And the next Cherry Hill program will feature soprano Nancy Walker in recital, on the afternoon of 11/6. See our calendar for details.