The March 4 recital of the Jewel Edgerton Williamson Chamber Music Series, presented in the Kenan Recital Hall on the Peace College campus, featured Peace faculty pianist Milton Laufer with NCS players Cheryl Benedict, Suzanne Rousso, Lisa Shaughnessy, Jeffrey Thayer, and Bonnie Thron. There was a better turnout than is sometimes the case in spite of the cold temperatures and brisk wind; nonetheless the 380-seat hall was only about half full. The printed program contained artist bios but no notes about the works or even composition dates, and with one exception, not even Opus numbers. No oral commentary was given either. As a former educator who had his first experiences with classical music as an undergrad, this reviewer feels that this is not a good example to be setting on a college campus.
The first half of the program consisted of repeat presentations of works heard recently elsewhere in the area. Thayer and Laufer opened with a fine reading of the original version of Camille Saint-Saëns' "Havanaise" for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 83, composed in 1887 and published in 1888. The version for violin and piano played at Peace actually pre-dates this by two years, however, contrary to what was often the case when piano reductions of orchestral scores were made for salon performance. Thayer had played this with a different partner on February 17 at the UUFR (reviewed for CVNC by John Lambert). Laufer, who can sometimes be a loud player, kept his volume just right and followed Thayer's lead extremely well. Thayer gave this showpiece that is nearly a chestnut of the repertoire a nice shape and brought out its variety often obscured by the flashy moments. He danced around quite a bit as he was playing from memory, though, and at one point I feared he was going to back into the piano.
Peace vocalist James Smith was scheduled to perform Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs but had to withdraw as a result of having had the flu, requiring the last minute substitution of another piece. This was Thayer and Thron's presentation of Kodaly's Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7, composed in 1914, which was played at Meredith on February 25 (also reviewed by cvnc) and is being given at other venues around the state. This made for an interesting exercise in comparison and contrast, since both works on the first half contain "exotic" dance melodies and rhythms from lands, Cuba and Hungary, foreign for the listeners if not for the composer in the latter case. Saint-Saëns' romantic lyricism was supplanted by Kodaly's modern intensity. The artists gave an excellent, precise, and impassioned rendition of this difficult piece.
The second half of the recital was devoted to Brahms' 1864 Quintet for Piano, Op. 34a, the musical evolution of which was traced in my archived review of the composer's Sonata for Two Pianos, Op. 34b, given at Meredith by Frank Pittman and Mary Ann Bills on January 13. The work sounded wonderful in this hall; the music filled it and resonated without bright, harsh reverberations. The ensemble and dynamics were excellent throughout this sensitive performance; there was excellent communication between the artists, most of whom are obviously used to playing together, even if not necessarily in this configuration. Laufer fit in nicely with them, without dominating through volume as is so often the temptation for the pianist with Brahms. The rendering of the second movement, Andante, un poco adagio, was especially lovely, and the third movement, Scherzo, was nice and taut. It was a very enjoyable and satisfying performance and evening.