The latest Manning Music Concert Series event or, if you prefer, Manning [Chamber] Music Series concert – bearing the name of Peace grad and benefactor Sara Jo Allen Manning – was presented before a smallish audience of the faithful in the [Sarah Graham] Kenan Recital Hall (in the Browne-McPherson Music Building) at William Pearce University on an evening that was drab and dreary outside. (There have been many changes at Peace in recent years, but the institution's proclivity for extended titles has emerged unscathed.)
Inside, four members of the North Carolina Symphony, a clarinetist, and a guest pianist offered a program of music dubbed "Songs of the Civil War" that included chamber arrangements of four tunes from that period plus a somewhat later string quartet by George Whitefield Chadwick, a member of the so-called Boston Classicists who, like so many of his colleagues, was in general heavily influenced by European training and tradition.
Several of the performers are well known as core players in the quasi ad hoc chamber ensemble Aurora Musicalis.
Musicologists love to group people under descriptive titles that facilitate categorization. Thus the "New England Hymnodists" (including William Billings and others) loosely link half a dozen composers from the period 1770 to 1810. The "second" New England School, covering the late 19th to early 20th centuries, encompasses the aforementioned Classicists – Chadwick plus Paine, Foote, Amy Beach, MacDowell, and Parker – composers whose music graces contemporary concert halls from time to time (with Mrs. H.H.A. Beach being in the lead, perhaps for extra-musical reasons).
Nationalism in music is a whole different matter, but there's something to be said for the responsive chords that are struck when programmers group together music from specific time-frames and places. That's one reason this latest Peace concert seemed so attractive, even if, for whatever reason, the final version of the program did not totally reflect what had been listed in CVNC's calendar. The previously-announced William Peace Singers were nowhere to be heard, nor were the first three numbers the journal had listed. Instead, the program began with four song transcriptions – Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" (1854), George Poulton's "Aura Lea" (1861, best known in a version recorded by Elvis Presley), G.R. Lampard's "Secesh" (1864) (the full title of which is "Cheer up, brave boys, or Secesh [secession] played out"), and the very well-known "Nearer My God to Thee," in this case based on the hymn known as "Bethany," by Lowell Mason (whose name was mauled in the printed program). Actually the latter was neither the first nor the last incarnation of the 1841 text by Sarah Flower Adams, but that's another story….
Clarinetist Jimmy Gilmore (late of the NC Symphony) introduced these pieces, which were performed in attractive arrangements that conveyed their charm and sentiment very nicely. The other artists were Rebekah Binford, violin, and Elizabeth Beilman, cello, both current NCS players, and pianist John Noel, a wonderfully sensitive artist who had too little to do during this program.
The balance of the concert was devoted to a single work, Chadwick's String Quartet No. 4 (1896?), the best known of the composer's five scores in this form, here very nicely introduced by Beilman. It bears some perceptible influence of Dvořák, whose "American" Quartet was written three or so years earlier (and likely other European influences as well), but it's not as concise as that apparent model, being quite episodic in nature, a quality not down-pedaled in the reading presented on this occasion, wherein the breaks within the four movements were often apparent. (Chadwick could have benefitted from a good editor.) Still, it was a rare performance of this important piece, and we must be grateful to the artists for having taken the trouble to work it up for this concert. The performers were Binford and violinist Analisé Denise Kukelhan (heading to the Cleveland Orchestra at the end of this month), violist Amy Mason, whose bio was omitted from the program booklet, and cellist Beilman.
The Chadwick would definitely be worth hearing again, for it is a fine example of a relatively unknown late Romantic chamber work that tends to look back more than it looks forward – which made it a handsome choice for this program.
The encore was a sextet version of Jay Unger's "Ashokan Farewell" (1982), the lament made famous in Ken Burns' Civil War series.
The next Manning concert will be presented on April 6. For details, see our calendar.