Turnout was a bit light but by no means sparse on June 3 for the second Duke 2003 Summer Festival of Music presentations, this one by the Mallarmé Chamber Players. It was entitled "Garden Music al Fresco" because it was a program of wind music mostly written to be performed out of doors, and it was scheduled to happen in the Antle outdoor Amphitheater in the Sarah P. Duke Memorial Gardens, but weather forced a removal inside to Kirby-Horton Hall. Musicians on the evening's roster were Anna Ludwig Wilson, founder and artistic director of the group, flute, Bo Newsome, oboe, Michael Cyzewski, clarinet, Kim van Pelt, French horn, and John Pederson, bassoon.
Unfortunately this reviewer turned up a bit late for the 7:00 p.m. start and missed the first work, Ferrenc Farkas' Antiche Danze Ungheresi dal Secolo XVII (1943), entirely and found the second, Bo Newsome's "Music With Six Legs" (composed in 1999 for the inauguration of the NC Museum of Life & Science's Butterfly House, and played by Mallarmé on that occasion as well) already underway. Based on the portion heard, it is an interesting, creative, imaginative piece.
There followed Carl Nielsen's Quintet, Op. 43, written in 1923. The playing was gorgeous, as fine as one could want to hear. Each instrument had its moment in the sun in the melodic opening movement. The musicians brought out the underlying humor in the bucolic second Menuet movement without exaggerating or overdoing it, and the hymn tune that forms the basis of the final movement's theme and variations was lovingly played. It was an impeccable performance.
The concluding work of the intermission-less program was Darius Milhaud's La Cheminée du Roi René, Op. 205, a suite organized rather like a Renaissance or Baroque dance suite, arranged in 1939 and first performed in 1941, early in his stay at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he went to escape the Nazis. The music initially served as the soundtrack for the first third of a film by Raymond Bernard, Cavalcade d'Amour , set in three different time periods, Milhaud having chosen the Middle Ages. (The other periods were 1830 and 1930, their composers Arthur Honegger and Roger Desormière.) In the Middle Ages, "cheminée" was not only the word generally used for chimney as we know it today; it also referred to a leisurely trip, from its root word "chemin," and in the context of nobility is the equivalent of "progress," as in when the king progressed from estate to estate. Here we have a trip to a country spot and the outdoor entertainment enjoyed there by King René d'Anjou, Comte de Provence, whose palace was in Aix-en-Provence, Milhaud's home town. After the "Cortège" ("Procession"), which portrays the trip itself, there is an "Aubade" (a morning serenade) followed by "Jongleurs" ("Jugglers") and "La Maousinglade" (ostensibly a suggestion of the haphazard landscape of the Aix countryside and using the rhythm of a sarabande, a dance of Provençal origin), "Joutes sur l'Arc" ("Jousts on the Arc," a local river), "Chasse à Valabre" ("Hunting at Valabre"), and ending the day with a "Madrigal-Nocturne." This work was once a war-horse of the wind quintet repertoire but of late seems to be less frequently played than in days of yore. It was good to hear it again and so well rendered in addition. The musicians played this as beautifully as they did the Nielsen and received well-deserved generous, hearty, and lengthy applause.
Mallarmé continues its 19-year tradition of creative programming and fine music making. The printed program included good though un-credited notes with all the requisite dates and information about each of the works (though not quite all of the details were there or correct for the Milhaud) and succinct artist bios. Would that those for musical events during the academic year all followed this model.