Eight students in the keyboard music program at East Carolina University presented an end-of-semester recital at A.J. Fletcher Recital Hall, showing both promise and accomplishment in a wide-ranging program of shorter works. At least two students, one at the start of her college career and one working on a master's degree, bear further watching, and others appear about ready to join that group.
The highlight of the evening wasn't a solo; it was two movements of Brahms' Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A minor, Op. 114, featuring Wesley Rhodes, clarinet, Emma Johnson, cello, and master's student Kate Avery, piano. Two-thirds of the blend of instruments – the piano and cello – often can combine for darker, more subtle music, so the trick for the clarinet is to provide a nice tonal contrast while never getting too bright or piercing; Rhodes handled this part of the musical equation quite nicely. In the opening Allegro movement, Rhodes, Johnson, and Avery showed well controlled reserve at the outset before opening up into a bolder sound, and the blend was excellent. In the Adagio movement, the three musicians displayed more emotion and intensity, and the blend remained excellent, without becoming too showy or splashy. The music, too, is first-rate Brahms, with nice pairing of clarinet and piano here, and clarinet and cello there, some passages in harmony and some in unison. All three musicians handled the score's dynamics well, playing softer and louder passages as a cohesive unit.
Avery also figured in another recital highlight: two movements of Beethoven's Sonata No. 26 in E-flat minor Op. 81, "Les Adieux." She showed considerable style throughout the Adagio-allegro and Andante espressivo movements, handling delicate and bolder moments with great command, and she negotiated the faster passages with precise articulation.
A pianist to watch out for is freshman Sydney Lukert, who played a lovely version of Chopin's Nocturne in B-flat minor, Op. 9, No.1, as well as accompanying violinist Chris Taylor in the Allegro vivace movement of Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 2 in D, Op. 12, No. 2. In the former, she handled effortlessly the frequent key changes and the undulating left-hand arpeggios under the melody line. In the latter, she provided fine support for Taylor. His sound could have been more prominent in some passages, to match Lukert's expressive playing.
Another pianist showing considerable skill was junior Jamie Gilliam, who played Schubert's Impromptu No. 2 in E-flat, D.899, and the Allegretto from Bartók's Suite for Piano, Op. 14. The former included runs up and down the keyboard and fingering that resembled butterfly-like flutters. The latter has non-traditional chord progressions and tricky rhythms that were well handled.
Junior Brandon Banks and sophomore Will Rose offered a fine reading of two movements of Schubert's Divertissement a la Hongroise, D.818, for piano four hands. The Marcia: andante con moto movement, with its military march sound, had good contributions from both players, Rose providing the rhythmic underpinning and Banks providing the main melodies. In the Allegretto movement, the two musicians had even more distinct parts for most of the piece, but about midway through, they came together nicely. Toward the end of the Allegretto, the music could have been great accompaniment for a silent film, as it alternated power chords, drama and tension.
The recital generally provided these students with their first college performances in front of an outside audience, and professor Keiko Sekino also required the soloists to play without music. As a result there were some hesitations and lapses, as well as occasional momentary restarts. It will be interesting to see how these musicians develop in skill and confidence.