Heartfelt music was programmed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and performed in Hill Hall in Chapel Hill to celebrate St. Valentine's Day. According to a reliable source at the pre-concert lecture, Triangle-based violinist Richard Luby had asked Ida Kavafian, of CMSLC, earlier in the day, in amazement, "You are opening with the duo sonata?" The item in question was Ravel's Sonata, for violin and cello, premiered on April 6, 1922, in Paris. Violinist Kavafian and Fred Sherry, cello, played it, and I realized exactly why the question indicated misgivings.
"I believe the Sonata marks a turning point in my career," Ravel said, according to program notes. "Bareness is here driven to the extreme: restraint from harmonic charm; more and more emphatic reversion to the spirit of melody." As I listened to the impeccable performance, I thought that if people hadn't paid Carolina Union ticket prices, and this work had been programmed to begin a free music department recital, the audience might have dribbled out before it ended. Audiences are loath to wait to see if something "better" is coming when they have not made a financial investment in the concert. Perhaps it had been a programming risk, but the applause that followed indicated the high level of appreciation and understanding of the Performing Arts Series audience that has been diverted to Hill Hall while Memorial Hall is under renovation.
The Valentine's Day selection that followed was by Bruce Adolphe (b. 1955). "A Thousand Years of Love" (1998), a song cycle for soprano and piano, was performed by Lauren Skuce, soprano, and Anne-Marie McDermott. Of the ten serious, stylish songs, mostly unfamiliar and impossible to follow without the words, only "O Mistress Mine" (Shakespeare) was intelligible to this listener, who probably was once again seated on the wrong side of Hill Hall auditorium, in a dead spot. Genteel well-tempered shrieking of the unintelligible soprano voice against the dramatic piano background provided the anti-climax of this sophisticated program. There was a moment at which the soloist made a dramatic move from the music stand into the curve of the piano where she screeched the question" How can I get this guy?"
Once again, thunderous applause for the artists rang out. The soprano voice was perhaps the strongest and most nearly perfect that I have heard in Hill Hall over a period of 30 years, yet it failed to engage this listener beyond the tremendous respect it commanded. Indeed it was a dark, heavy soprano voice. In a strapless black gown with a sparkling short round (apparently) diamond necklace, Skuce was a vision to watch and amazing to hear, yet communication with the audience was as lacking as it would have been from an exquisitely perfect Dresden doll.
The engaging host of the pre-concert lecture, cellist Brent Wissick, of the UNC Music Department, had indicated that after intermission would come the "sorbet" of this heavy musical feast: selected folk songs arranged by Haydn (H.XXXI) for voice with violin, cello and piano accompaniment. The three "corrected texts" had been handed to us with the program booklet, yet because of the dim light, one could simply preview them during intermission. Once again the sung words did not penetrate two-thirds of the distance of the hall to my location, but "An thou wert mine ain thing," "O'er the hills and far away," and "Mary's Dream" provided the promised contrast to clear the palate. "Sweet Mary, weep no more for me" was not heard word for word, but that entire last Haydn song showed soprano Skuce capable of sharing deep feeling with her audience. She approached communication in this last offering. The subject was dramatically and emotionally delivered and perceived in essence.
Kavafian, Sherry and McDermott got down to serious, spectacular business with Ravel's Piano Trio in A Minor. McDermott's delightfully wild piano performance was joined by passionate string playing. Composed in 1914, this work was premiered in Paris by pianist and composer Alfredo Casella, violinist Gabriele Willoume, and cellist Louis Teuillard, according to the program notes. During their drop-in visit at the pre-concert lecture, the string players had tossed back and forth comments about how much vibrato they would be using. She preferred more; he, less. They make these decisions sometimes while carpooling to work, they said.
Indeed most of the program was played with restrained vibrato, apparently in deference to Sherry. Yet in the finale of the Trio, the violinist gave in to her feelings and the cellist responded in kind with sensational vibrato. It is interesting that concert music is never repeated exactly the same way. I trust that this particular interpretation was an unforgettable experience for the artists and that they will fondly remember Chapel Hill as they carpool to rehearsals in New York City. Let me not imply by saving it for last that the piano work of Anne-Marie McDermott was least. She is a living dynamo, providing a virtual one-piece orchestral background for the strings of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Bravo! Brava!