Anthony Romaniuk, first prize winner of the 2011 Westfield International Fortepiano competition in Ithaca, NY, provided a delightful concert for the Raleigh Chamber Music Guild at Kenan Hall on the campus of William Peace University. The fortepiano is sort of an adolescent in keyboard instrumental development (as suggested in the excellent program notes by Joseph and Elizabeth Kahn). It has 61 or so keys as opposed to the standard 88 for a modern piano. The keyboard action is shallower and more sensitive than the piano and would require considerable training and practice to manage. The instrument used on this occasion is owned by UNCG's Andrew Willis.
The audience was invited to imagine being in a gracious early nineteenth century home for a parlor concert, which was the manner of making music available to those unable to travel to the music center cities of the time. The program opened with the Overture from Die Entfürung aus dem Serail by W. A. Mozart in an arrangement believed to be by Mozart himself. Romaniuk, with an apparent facility for memorization, played the piece without a score. The charm and energy of Mozart’s music demonstrated the rich and subtle sounds of the fortepiano ideally.
For the next selection, Romaniuk was joined by his friend and early keyboard enthusiast of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Andrew Willis. They performed Andante and Five Variations in G for piano, four hands, K. 501, by Mozart. This is one of those pieces invented by the composer in his youth to be played with his talented sister, Nannerl. The form proved to be very popular in parlors throughout Europe and the Americas well into the twentieth century. The performance was a delight to hear. The technique and style of Romaniuk and Willis were admirably demonstrated.
To conclude the first half of the concert we heard one of the set of piano trios which were the first published works by Ludwig van Beethoven; Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1, No. 3. Romaniuk was joined by Joanna Huszcza, a baroque violin specialist currently based in Brussels (who is also the fortepianist's spouse), and cellist Stephanie Vial, currently teaching baroque cello at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and at The Curtis Institute of Music. The piano trio is set in four movements; a fully developed Allegro con brio, an Andante cantabile con Variazioni, a brief Menuetto: Quasi Allegro and an energetic Finale: Prestissimo. Hints of the Beethoven to come were performed very nicely indeed.
After the intermission, Romaniuk and Willis returned to the orchestral music of Mozart as arranged for piano four hands. They provided a thoroughly delightful performance of the familiar Overture from Die Zauberflöte, K.620. The arrangement was by Wilhelm Friedrich Riem.
The concluding selection was the grand opportunity of our fantasy parlor concert. Yes, we have heard of Herr Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, but because of the time, the cost, and the difficulties of travel, we have not heard it - until now, thanks to the talents of Romaniuk, Huszcza, Vial and flutist Rebecca Troxler, very familiar to local audiences. In an arrangement by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, we heard all the themes, lovely melodies, interesting development, surprising harmonies, and cadences. The performance was exciting, and each of the instrumentalists at times sounded as enchanting and powerful as a section of a full orchestra.
In the twenty-first century, with all of our recording technology and our community and professional symphony orchestras almost everywhere, we can easily hear works as their composers intended, but this has not always been the case. It was therfore a joy for an afternoon to slip into an earlier era and enjoy the musical culture of that time. The fortepiano with its mellow tones and its demanding tuning regimen reminded us that things have not always been as they are now. But more than that, the concert provided a most pleasant musical treat.