Chamber Music Review Print



Brahms in Large Doses

June 8, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:


The newest kid on the block put on the first concert in the new series, Overtones, in a congenial space that seats around 160 people (although only around 60 were on hand on this occasion) in the back of a new shop on Hargrove Road. The presenter is Ruggero Piano (http://www.ruggeropiano.com/), a long-established purveyor of fine pianos in Raleigh, which last year picked up the famous Bösendorfer line. An Imperial Grand sits on the raised platform in Bösendorfer Hall, accessible from the main showroom where, on the afternoon of June 8, many instruments were on display, including one that played itself - a high-tech variation on player pianos of yore.

Overtones began with a program devoted to the music of Brahms (1833-97), presented by Aurora Musicalis. Two more concerts remain on this summer series; see our calendar for the remaining events.

Aurora Musicalis is often a trio, but it's of the clarinet-cello-piano variety, most of the time, as opposed to the typical piano trio. The ensemble almost always includes clarinetist Jimmy Gilmore and cellist Elizabeth Beilman. Pianist John Ruggero, who played on this occasion, and who figures in the remaining concerts this summer, was a partner in Aurora Musicalis at the outset but devoted himself exclusively to teaching for several seasons, so other keyboardists (and other artists) have filled the void. It is good to welcome him back, on a regular basis, for he is one of our finest players, whether as a solo artist, a concerto partner, or a chamber musician. (He is the brother of Richard, proprietor of Ruggero Piano, and when he's not playing or teaching, he also composes and writes about music - the program notes on this occasion were his work. For the record, he is one of a very small number of outstanding artists who grew up in Raleigh - he is a product of the Class of '63 at Broughton High School - and who remained here.)

The afternoon seemed more autumnal than spring-like. Things got underway with Brahms' First Clarinet Sonata, Op. 120/1 (1894). Gilmore is a remarkable artist - he's one of only a handful of people who have served in the NCS since the Swalin era, and the fact that he is playing as well now as he has ever done is, in the overall scheme of things, astounding. That he has spent a good bit of his spare time playing chamber music has doubtless served to keep all his playing fresh and insightful. It helps, too, that Gilmore is a down-to-earth person who doesn't mind acting as stagehand or whatever it takes to put on concerts. Indeed, he reminds me of the mechanic who keeps all the cars in the 'hood purring smoothly, rather than the typical "artiste" type (which may or may not be relevant any more, come to think of it....) In any event, the nuances Gilmore brought to this substantial sonata were delightful to experience. His partner was that in the fullest meaning of the word: this is, as Gilmore noted at the outset, an organic sonata, as opposed to the fluffy kind in which the "solo" instrument is dutifully underlined by a boring and inconsequential piano part. The sound that emanated from the B'dorfer was rich and full, the balance was superb, and the interplay between the two players proved engaging from start to finish. Only the hall's somewhat noisy HVAC system detracted - slightly - from the overall experience.

Beilman played Brahms' Second Cello Sonata, a late work (1886) in four movements (like the other pieces played) that exploits the lower register of the string instrument in ways that rarely fail to impress and certainly impressed on this occasion. Here, too, the rich cello sounds found perfect counterparts in the Imperial's sonority, and the partnership demonstrated by Beilman and Ruggero could hardly have been better.

The program ended with the Trio in A Minor (1891) by Brahms, written for clarinet or viola, cello and piano, and rarely heard - locally, at least - in either incarnation. (It is not an adaptation of a trio for piano and strings piano trios, one of which was played by the Eroica Trio when they were last in Raleigh.) There have been a few recordings, and one involved Benny Goodman, but it is of interest - and relevance here - primarily because the cellist on that Lp was Fritz Magg, one of Beilman's teachers, who played at Meredith, years ago; his widow, a pianist, has performed on several occasions with Aurora Musicalis. The performance given in B'dorfer Hall was outstanding in every respect, bringing a program that often seemed full of longing for the past full circle. It was a wonderful opportunity for the public to hear a seasoned ensemble whose members think and even breathe together play music they clearly adore. That said, however, it may have been a bit much for Wagnerites* - although perhaps the Wagnerites were among the missing!

The encore was the slow movement of Beethoven's Trio in B Flat, Op. 11, for piano, clarinet (or violin), and cello. It received a performance that glowed from within, and it was remarkably compatible with the mood and spirit of the other works on the formal part of the program. This actually was on the Eroica's October 2001 RCMG program, and it was a treat to hear it in its clarinet edition. This series continues on June 29 with music by Beethoven, Fauré, and Rachmaninov, played by cellist Jonathan Kramer and pianist Ruggero.

*The term is explained in our review of the Duke SO's April 2003 concert, available in our archives.