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Wednesday's Brevard Music Center faculty concert was a feast with two main courses: Wiener schnitzel and Coq au vin rouge.
The first course was Johannes Brahms's Piano Trio in C, Op. 87. I compare it to Wiener schnitzel because this trio is definitely from the Germanic tradition and is "diligent, highly constructed...and an inspiration" (words that Wikipedia uses to describe Brahms's work and that I think also apply to good schnitzel). The form of the work is highly traditional but the flavor is decidedly Brahmsian. The work often sets the piano in opposition to the collective sound of the strings, adding tension. Thick harmonies abound and woe to any player who leaves out a note; every note is important. The second movement has a dash of Hungarian sauce. When he wrote the third movement, the composer must have had in mind his friend the virtuoso pianist Clara Schumann; few pianists of the time could have managed its difficulties. The final movement contains highly effective moments when all sound ceases for an instant at the end of a rapid phrase, a technique that requires absolute synchronism of the three players. This is not a piece for sissies.
We were fortunate to have Bruce Murray, piano, William Preucil, violin, and Christopher Rex, cello, who performed the Trio brilliantly. Murray is Dean of the Brevard Music Center, Preucil is concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra and Rex is principal cellist of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Motifs are reused in the various movements to create a coherent whole. Several of the motifs are shared between the two string players, with Preucil and Rex making handoffs that were so smooth that one imagined a single eight-string instrument. The execution was inspiring; the words "star power" come to my mind.
After intermission, we had our second main course: Concerto for violin, piano and string quartet in D, Op. 21, by Ernest Chausson. This composer died at age 44, far too young; yet he lived long enough for musicologists to identify three distinct periods. He wrote this concerto during his second period. It is indeed a concerto, with two soloists in front of a string quartet acting as the accompaniment. The work is highly dramatic and shows the influence of César Franck and Richard Wagner. I compare the piece to Coq au vin rouge since it is characteristically French and is composed out of humble ingredients (the old retired rooster in traditional Coq au vin, simple motifs in the concerto). In the hands of a lesser composer, or lesser players, the "D-A-E" motif would have become as dry as a badly cooked rooster.
No problem at this concert in the Porter Center of Brevard College. The two soloists (Preucil on violin and Murray on piano) and the accompanying Vega Quartet (Domenic Salerni & Jessica Shuang Wu, violins; Yinzi Kong, viola; and Guang Wang, cello) made this work sing. Preucil, who was first violin in the Cleveland Quartet from 1989 until it disbanded in 1995, is a consummate ensemble musician. He had used subtle body motions to convey leadership in the Brahms, but scaled up his body language to his "concertmaster mode" in order to communicate to this larger group of six musicians. They responded with a convincing unity, lush sonorities and, bursts of fire. All six deserve praise, but Preucil was the spark that lit up the night sky.
Nowadays, when almost every performance gets a standing ovation, the only way an audience can indicate a great performance, as opposed to a good one, is by the length of the ovation. This performance earned, and received, a very long standing ovation.