Recital Review Print

Luby Breaks Loose

October 23, 2001 - Chapel Hill, NC:

Violinist Richard Luby landed at UNC a long time ago, and when he arrived he already had an excellent reputation as an exponent of the then-relatively new original instruments movement. Soon after being engaged here, he and cellist Brent Wissick established A Society for Performance on Original Instruments, later renamed Ensemble Courant, and for over a decade the group gave many bracing concerts. The ensemble is from time to time still resurrected, but its members--which included harpsichordist Elaine Funaro, flutist Rebecca Troxler, and other fine local artists--have mostly moved on to other things. Luby, too, has largely abandoned his HIP (historically-informed performance) roots. One of his first big splashes in the post-Ensemble Courant period was a glowing reading of Berg's Violin Concerto, with the UNC Symphony Orchestra. He returned to the twelve-tone period during his latest recital, presented in partnership with UNC-based pianist Elizabeth Tomlin on October 23, in Hill Hall.

The program itself was distinctive. It began with Mozart's B Flat Major Sonata, K.454, composed in 1784. Next up was a late Schoenberg score, the Phantasy, written in 1949. After intermission, Stravinsky's Duo Concertante was brought to vivid life. The evening ended with Debussy's late Sonate, dated 1917. At first glance, this might appear to be something of a grab-bag, but a closer examination of the dates involved proves fascinating, and there are more than a few stylistic links, too.

Curiously, only 20 years separated the births of Debussy and Stravinsky, and Schoenberg was hatched roughly midway between them. Curiously, too, only 71 years separated the death of Mozart from the birth of Debussy. Schoenberg's Phantasy has always seemed--to this writer, at least--strongly indebted to Debussy. Stravinsky's admiration of Mozart is a matter of record. And there were of course strong ties between the music of France and Russia, so Stravinsky, who lived in both places before settling in America, came by his cross-cultural influences absolutely honestly. As a result, there were more links among and between the works on Luby's program than might at first have struck the eye--or ear.

The sound in Hill Hall on this occasion was better focused than usual, thanks perhaps to the presence of a six-section shell, and Luby played very well, for the most part. Slow passages were delivered with the utmost technical skill and artistic insight. A few rapid sections were a bit blurred, and more than a few harmonic and other high notes were a bit shaky, but the violinist's commitment and artistic intent were never in question. Tomlin provided strong support throughout, often holding back to allow her partner's grandly expressive softer sections to shine. At other times, balance seemed to favor the piano, but this may well have been a function of the hall and our location in it. Judging by William T. Walker's report on another recital at Duke just 48 hours before the Luby-Tomlin program (elsewhere in this issue), I'd say that Chapel Hillians got the better deal, by far.

UNC's program was a bare-bones affair, devoid of performer biographies and notes on the music offered. That's probably ok as far as Mozart and Debussy are concerned but neither the Stravinsky nor the Schoenberg turns up very often, so some attendees might have welcomed a bit of text on them.