On February 10, musicians from the NC Symphony presented their latest recital in the Jewel Edgerton Williamson Chamber Music Series at Peace College in its Kenan Recital Hall in the Brown-McPherson Music Building. It opened with harpist Anita Burroughs-Price playing Jacques Ibert's "Entr'acte" and proceeded to the "Intermezzo" from Verdi's La Forza del destino with clarinetist Michael Cyzewski joining her. Unfortunately, this reviewer forgot that these performances now begin at 7:30 instead of the elsewhere customary 8:00, and managed to miss these pieces, which were reported to have been lovely.
Burroughs-Price next took a brief pause and Cyzewski's spouse, soprano Judith Bruno, joined him for a reprise of Gordon Jacob's Three Songs for Soprano and Clarinet which they presented in a Smedes Parlor recital (also covered by this reviewer) last November 12. It was a delight to have the opportunity to hear them again, and they clearly delighted this audience as well. They seemed to flow a bit more smoothly this time around, although the clarinet occasionally covered the voice. Burroughs-Price returned to join the couple in "O! Mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi . Cyzewski departed and we were treated to a rendition of Maurice Ravel's Cinq mélodies populaires grecques (1905), to which Bruno's voice seemed particularly well suited, to close the first half. Her diction was good and her body language and facial expression marvels to behold. I have heard (and reviewed) three performances of this wonderful cycle in the past year: Elizabeth Linnartz and Burroughs-Price in UNC's Hill Hall on February 19, 2002, Catherine Charlton and Emily Laurance in St. Mary's Smedes Parlor on March 12, 2002, and this one (and I am told it is on the program for the next Smedes Parlor Emerging Artist event). All were fine performances, but each was different from the others, and, it must be said, the nature of the halls had a major impact on the impression the performances made on the audiences. Smedes Parlor is hands down the best venue for this kind of work because of the intimacy it provides, and Hill Hall is by far the worst of the three. Bruno nonetheless compensated splendidly for Kenan's more formal and distant format.
The second half of the program was devoted entirely to the original string sextet version of Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4 (1899). This is one of the composer's most famous works, albeit heard more frequently in his own later (1917, rev. 1943) arrangement for string orchestra, and also one of his most approachable ones. In a sense, it is an art song, because it was directly inspired by a poem of the same title by Richard Dehmel in his collection Weib und Welt , although for many years the composer refused to talk about the relationship between the two works and insisted that the text NOT be provided, because he believed that the music, which he wrote in three weeks time, should speak for itself. And speak it indeed does, as it depicts the story of a young couple progressing through a crisis into harmonious resolution on a stroll through the woods, being thus a true tone poem, among the first for a chamber ensemble. The woman reveals that, in a bout of depression, she had felt that the only thing which could give meaning to her life would be to become a mother, and so she set about deliberately to become pregnant. The father, a stranger, has disappeared, and now she is in love with another, to whom she is revealing her condition with trepidation. Her trust is rewarded as he declares that the child will be transformed into his own by the strength of their love. The music is as lush, late-Romantic as it gets, depicting vividly the torment and the passion over five movements played without pause and ending after about thirty minutes - the piece doesn't seem anywhere near that long - in sublime arpeggios depicting the newfound serenity and peace. This was thus a fitting work for the program and for the Valentine's season (although it had originally been scheduled for an earlier recital in the series and postponed due to an emergency in the family of one of the musicians), and it was lovingly - and beautifully - played by violinists Rebekah Binford and Eric McCracken, violists David Marschall and Paul Malcolm, and cellists Bonnie Thron and Susan Gardner.
The printed program was a disappointment, its preparer having clearly given more importance to appearance than to substance. The titles of the individual songs in the two song cycles were not given. The insert contained only translations of the Ravel songs, and not the original French. No texts were provided for the Jacobs songs. It was nice to have the English translation of the Dehmel poem Verklärte Nacht , but it would have been even nicer to have had the German original as well. There were artist bios, but no program notes, although Marschall made some judicious and illuminating comments to introduce the Schoenberg work.