That the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra plays from the strength of its diverse members has long been a given, but symphonic settings don't invariably reveal individual artists' special skills and talents. The "Free Spirits" offerings of chamber music augment and enhance the presenter's main-stage concerts and provide opportunities to hear RSO artists and other area performers in intimate settings. This subset of concerts is hardly unique– the NCS offers a comparable series, at Peace College, and the Greensboro Symphony goes all other state orchestras one better by routinely presenting its visiting solo artists in chamber music events – but it's nonetheless praiseworthy, in and of itself, and on the afternoon of September 18, the overall results were really quite extraordinary.
The artists were violinist Izabela Cohen and pianist Lanette Lind, who is perhaps best known as a composer. The program was wide-ranging, and although we've heard both artists in various small-ensemble settings on previous occasions, it gave the audience a wonderful opportunity to experience their musicianship up-close and personal....
The program began with Richard Faith's "Reflections," for violin and piano, a work that lives up to its title in terms of tempo and mood that concurrently served as a commentary on recent disasters that have besieged our nation. On its heels, Mozart's Sonata No. 4 sounded more "romantic" than usual, but its somewhat sad melodies were more than appropriate in the context of the rest of the first half of the recital. Cohen's playing in these introductory works was exemplary – her fusion of technical skills and interpretation drew in and consistently engaged the listeners. Villa-Lobos' fantasy-sonata "Desesperance" was cast in similar tones – somber and reflective – and it sounded decidedly "European" to these ears. There were reflective passages in Paganini's Sonata No. 12 too, but fiddling fireworks brightened the proceedings considerably.
Part two began with one of Karol Szymanowski's ravishing preludes, from his Op. 1 – his music is too little heard here, so Cohen's inclusion of this mini-masterwork by her fellow countryman was most welcome. The concert ended with more Polish fare – Wieniawski's dazzling brilliant showpiece, the Polonaise Brillante, Op. 21/2, which Cohen graced with some of the most impressive left-hand pizzicato work heard in this region in years – and yet another little gem (the Mazurka, Op. 19) as the encore. But the "meat" of the afternoon came in the second work performed in the second half – Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata, a miracle of gentle melody and charm and grace. This is one of ten works published as sonatas for pianoforte and violin, and the nomenclature is important, for the two instruments are given equal weight. Cohen impressed with her beautiful tone and lyricism, always secure. The violin playing was magnificent throughout.
Lind was an able partner but rarely matched the intensity of her colleague. Perhaps it was just an off day for her, or maybe the piano itself was partly to blame – it did not please the pianist of Triple Helix during that ensemble's recent Raleigh concert. In any event, the accompaniments were not particularly dramatic where they might have been, and there was not much dynamic contrast from the keyboard during this richly varied program.