Raleigh Chamber Music Guild’s “Sights and Sounds on Sunday” series always provides unique pleasures. This concert was an excellent case in point. The ambiance is provided by the North Carolina Museum of Art and the concert always has some connection with the artwork or exhibits of the museum. The cozy concert hall is ideal for chamber music. The music itself is often an eclectic mix of a variety of chamber ensembles and styles, and the musicians for these concerts are North Carolina artists. There are no printed program notes; slides of representative artwork are shown, and the musicians themselves provide brief background information, often with a casual sense of humor, providing a comfortable and ideal setting for music of this nature.
On this occasion the paintings of the brooding Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, provided stimulation for the program. The music was provided by Aurora Musicalis, consisting of Brian Reagin, violin, Elizabeth Beilman, cello, Jimmy Gilmore, clarinet, and John Noel, piano. Their program featured selections by six different composers who were being heard around the time that Munch was doing his artistic exploration of the inner life of the human creature.
The program opened with sections VI "Nachtgesang" ("Night Song") and VII Allegro vivace, a frisky peasant’s dance, from Max Bruch’s Eight Pieces, Op. 83, composed in 1910, when Bruch was around 72 years old. As a composer Bruch was always a conservative in the style of Brahms and a strong opponent of the 'modern madness' of composers like Strauss, Reger, Debussy and especially, Schoenberg. The "Night Song" was an ethereal journey, with arpeggios provided by the piano and a soaring, calming melody shared by the clarinet and cello. The next movement was a delightful dance of bucolic joy.
From Edvard Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op. 45, we heard the Allegretto espressivo alla Romanza and the Allegro animato movements. It opened with a quiet lyrical passage which gave way to a happy theme that built to a rhapsodic conclusion before returning to end with the quiet melody. The following movement was a rustic dance of delight. Reagin, in his twenty-fourth season as concertmaster of the North Carolina Symphony, and Noel, a native of Henderson, North Carolina with degrees from the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, Oberlin Conservatory, Juiliard School and the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, delivered a musically stunning and technically exciting performance.
Next, Noel performed the exquisitely tender Prelude in D-flat major, Op.17, No.3 by Alexander Scriabin. Over arpeggios in thirds, a melody of ethereal beauty soars like an angel on wings of satin.
Arnold Schoenberg’s "Verklärte Nacht" (or Transfigured Night), Op. 4, is a string sextet in one movement composed in 1899 and later transcribed for string orchestra. It is a musical interpretation of a poem by Richard Dehmel which describes the uneasy and uncertain feelings of a young couple walking down a road together (exactly the stuff the aforementioned Munch thrived on). She confesses that she is carrying another man’s child. He wrestles with his feelings about this and finally tells her that he forgives her and accepts her as she is. The music stretches the limits of atonality in the classical form to their limits. From here the only place to go for Schoenberg was 12-tone music. The performance on this program was an abbreviated piano trio version arranged by one of Schoenberg’s pupils, Edward Steuermann.
"Verklärte Nacht" is a remarkable tone poem describing the inner struggles of the couple and at the end, when he accepts her, the music is absolutely shimmering with light. The performance by Reagin, Beilman, and Noel was moving and rewarding.
The next selection was by Carl Fruhling (1868-1937), a composer who wrote some very nice music, much of which has been lost for one reason or another. His Trio in A, Op. 40 is a complex, ingenious waltz put together with exceptional skill.
The last piece on the program was from Paul Hindemith’s Clarinet Quartet composed in 1923, when Hindemith was around 28 years old, revised about thirty years later. It contains some amazing counterpoint and evidence of Hindemith’s intellectual prowess. The influence of jazz is there and like most of his music it sounds unique to Hindemith. To me the word cosmopolitan captures the essence of the sound. The second movement was a rowdy dance tune that had the audience moving in rhythm. In his introduction, Gilmore called this piece a humdinger and it was obvious in the performance that Beilman, Reagin and Noel shared this assessment of delight in this piece.