Nothing could have better displayed the extraordinarily high standard of the professional Eastern Music Festival faculty than this opening chamber music concert of the festival's 55th season. Faculty are featured in Monday and Tuesday night chamber music concerts held in the ideal, intimate Recital Hall on the University of North Carolina Greensboro campus. The series is directed by concertmaster Jeffrey Multer who said that all of the Monday concerts this season will feature an opening work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) while the Tuesday concerts will feature the Brandenburg Concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). This concert featured a duo and two trios for piano, violin, and cello. Violinist Multer was joined by cellist Julian Schwarz, and pianist Marika Bournaki – a very impressive new addition to the faculty.
Mozart's six piano trios are not on the exalted level of his string quartets and quintets or his mature violin sonatas, much less the numerous ones by Haydn. The early ones feature the keyboard with string accompaniment. Only in his late trios, such as Piano Trio in E, K. 542, which was composed around the time the composer was working on Symphony N. 39, is there a much more equal treatment of the strings with the piano. Even so, the keyboard often opens alone before the strings vigorously enjoin. This is Mozart's only mature work in E. He did this to exploit color such as the extensive subtle chromaticism in the opening Allegro. The following Andante grazioso is dominated by an infectious dance tune. The finale, Allegro, juxtaposes fast-paced lyricism with brilliant virtuosity.
Bournaki played with the piano lid fully raised but she perfectly balanced her dynamics with that of Multer's and Schwartz's strings. Their intonation was immaculate, so crucial in Mozart above all. All three players applied a refined palette of color and dynamics. What a delicate touch Bournaki brought to the ivories! This was a consistent quality throughout all three works.
Schwarz took the stage, without score, to join Bournaki for a fiery, kaleidoscopic performance of the Sonata for Cello and Piano (1915) by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). The opening Prologue blends melancholy with a noble air. The following Serenade demands the cellist execute a plethora of extreme string techniques, pizzicatos, whistling high harmonics, and strummed strings. The Finale abounds in vigorous high spirits interrupted by an ethereal, poignant interlude. Schwarz's playing was breathtaking and his playing of the bravura middle movement was jaw dropping! What colors Bournaki conjured from her keyboard! Their performance was rewarded by a prolonged standing ovation.
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was under pressure to be less Czech and to be more German ("Brahmsian") to expand his international appeal when he composed his Piano Trio No. 3 in F minor, Op. 65 (1883). While he did not abandon folk elements, they are most prominent in the second and fourth movements. This trio has much more complexity of form and greater emotional depth. Grief over the death of his much beloved mother in 1882 is channeled, too. The long opening movement is bursting with drama and intensity. Folk-like asymmetric dance rhythms of the second movement provide contrast and emotional relief. The Adagio is full of melodies that convey piercing grief and loss. Cross-rhythms and off-beat accents abound in the furiant-like Finale.
Multer, Schwartz, and Bournaki brought a white-hot intensity to the first movement. The energy may have contributed to a violin peg's slip from which Multer quickly recovered. Together, they brought out the underlying melancholy of the otherwise lively second movement. Schwartz, Multer, and Bournaki in turn were masterful in probing the heart-achingly beautiful melodies of the third movement. The rhythmic complexity and vitality of the Finale brought another prolonged well-earned standing ovation from the large audience of music lovers and students. This trio gave Bournaki scope to unleash her full dynamic range from surging ff to delicate ppp.
EMF highlights this week include the ever popular Piano Gala (6/29), Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg's violin recital (6/30), and my favorite, both full-sized student orchestras and the all faculty Eastern Festival Orchestra in an all-Mozart evening (7/1). The usual Saturday EMF Orchestra will feature Awadagin Pratt in Brahms' First Piano Concerto. See our calendar for more details.