The first concert of the 54th Eastern Music Festival utilized the superb acoustics of the UNCG School of Music, Theatre, and Dance Recital Hall on Monday night. The composers: Mozart, Dvořák, and Tchaikovsky. The players? All faculty members of the EMF.
The first piece of the season was Mozart’s Violin Sonata in A, K.305, written in 1778. The composer was 22 years old and on a trip to Mannheim with his mother, ostensibly to find a new position, since he had resigned from his employment in Salzburg. On this evening, EMF concertmaster Jeffrey Multer and pianist Eunhye Choi performed the two-movement work.
The opening Allegro di molto bubbled over with good energy from both musicians. Exquisite intonation from Multer and great ensemble between the two allowed for a bright and cheery reading. The second movement, a theme and variations, tends to favor the piano more; indeed the first variation is for solo piano. The fifth variation is really fun, set in a minor mode, but the mood is almost cartoonish comical. Both musicians seemed to delight in the dramedy. Some of the faster passages from Choi could have been cleaner, but the overall elegance and grace never suffered.
Lucas Guideri (playing 1st violin) and Danielle Guideri (cello) joined Multer and Choi for an infectious performance of Dvořák’s Bagatelles, Op. 47. The work is infused with tuneful music, originally written for harmonium rather than piano, and designed for home entertainment. The five Bagatelles (Trifles) that make up the work make use of a Czech folk song in the odd-numbered movements. All five are a delight, with the music distributed pretty equally among all participants, especially the strings. The second movement is an engaging waltz. The fourth movement is primarily a piano trio, as the second violin sits out much of the movement. Here the canon between violin and cello was clearly laid out.
All four musicians turned in strong performances – intonation was spot on and each player was sensitive to his/her role in the proceedings, making for a warm and winning presentation.
Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 powerfully concluded the program. This, like the Mozart sonata, is in two movements, also concluding with a theme and variations. The performers were Multer (violin), Guideri (cello), and pianist William Wolfram. The overall mood of the work is, as the composer said, "lamenting, funereal," as it was written as a tribute to the pianist Nicolai Rubinstein, who had died a year earlier. But there is much more to this work than sadness – heroics and pride, to name two characteristics, frequently coupled with extreme virtuosity, providing a perfect vehicle for these three crack musicians.
The opening Pezzo elegiaco (elegiac piece) begins with a heart-rending tune from the cello, exquisitely played by Guideri. Indeed, her playing the entire evening was distinguished by extreme lyricism, plucky pizzicatos, and rich timbre. Wolfram provided the undulating accompaniment. Before long Multer picked up the impassioned tune. A bravura passage from the piano ensues. Wolfram is a powerful player, and on occasion perhaps too much so. Still, there is no denying his brilliant technique.
The variations begin with a lyric but somewhat somber tune from the piano; this serves as the basis for the 20-minute movement. A tour-de-force exploration of the different timbres available from the instruments follows: an ardent cello display with violin filigree a sparkling, shimmering piano passage (magnificently played by Wolfram), extremely contrapuntal passages (including a fugue that displayed terrific energy from all three), and intensity that is almost overwhelming. Toward the end a mazurka-like section (reminiscent of Chopin) eventually leads to a funereal rhythm (also recalling Chopin), which quietly closes the work
The evening was an auspicious beginning of five weeks of terrific music making. The large audience appreciated the top-notch playing – the hall should have been full.