Chamber Music Review Print



Foothills at Reynolda: Links across Time among Composers and Performers

August 7, 2004 - Winston-Salem, NC:


Perhaps some of the threads tying together relationships among the composers on the program of the August 7 Foothills Chamber Music concert, given in Reynolda House, were tenuous. A sometime guest at Rossini's musicales was Saint-Saëns, who taught Fauré. Fauré taught Georges Enesco, who in turn taught Yehudi Menuhin. Here things were stretched to tie in Menuhin's exploration of other music - including jazz, with Stephane Grapelli. The jazz violinist recorded with numerous artists including jazz piano great McCoy Tyler. Tyler collaborated with jazz violinist John Blake, who taught Foothills violinist Jacqui Carrasco....

The twelve-year-old Rossini's String Sonata No. 2, in A, abounds with melody along with equal distribution of material among the four strings. It was beautifully played by violinists Andrea Schultz and Carrasco, cellist Benjamin Wolff, and bassist John Spuller. Each string player had both solo and supporting roles.

Cellist Benjamin Wolff revealed a deep, rich tone, crystal clear articulation and consummate style in two short character pieces, Saint-Saëns' "Priere," Op. 158, a transcription of a piece for organ, and a transcription of Fauré's song, "Après un Rêve."

As a rule I loathe any amplification of music. For four selections for jazz violin and guitar, Carrasco and Mark Mazzatenta had individual amplifiers that were used with discretion. Grapelli's "Search for Peace" and "Blues on the Corner" were slow and fast, respectively. These were followed by Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" and Kurt Weill's well-known "Mack the Knife." Both players improvised extensively, using skeletal scores as starting points.

Fauré persuaded Enesco to serve on the competition jury at the Paris Conservatoire, and in 1904 and 1906, the latter wrote four pieces for use in the instrumental competitions. Two of these are still played from time to time, and the Concertstück, for viola and piano, was given on this occasion. According to B. Kotlyarov, writing in Enesco: His Life and Times , the "viola is treated as a solo instrument... [and] the piano is assigned a role that goes far beyond the requirements of sheer accompaniments." Continuing, Kotlyarov writes, "The viola part is very developed and varied"; the composer "makes use of the full range of the instrument from the lower C to F third octave..." and adds "many tone-color effects reproducing the sound of woodwind and popular plucked instruments." Much of this could be inferred from the committed performance of violist Elizabeth Oakes and pianist Rachel Matthews, a co-founder of the Foothills Festival. Oakes played one of the largest violas that I have seen, but it did not make a comparably large sound. With the piano lid fully raised (which I always prefer), Matthews sometimes came close to covering the viola line. Even so, the composer's exploitation of the wide range of the viola was discernible, as was the lively, bright, and frequently independent piano.

Violinist Andrea Schultz, violist Oakes, cellist Wolff, and pianist Byron Schenkman gave a stylish performance of Fauré's Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 15. Even with the piano lid fully up, the keyboard part never covered the strings. All the mood changes were fully captured and characterized. The gossamer scherzo, with a wispy piano melody over light pizzicato chords, was heavenly. The adagio had an ideal mix of yearning and melancholy. The last movement built to an impressive climax and ended brilliantly.