The closing concert of the inaugural Carolina Summer Music Festival season was a delightful mix of wind and string pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven, and by Danish composer, Carl Nielsen. The performers are all seasoned Triad area musicians with the addition of the Charlotte Symphony’s principal cellist, Alan Black. This Sunday afternoon’s audience in the Gray Auditorium of the Old Salem Visitors Center made up in enthusiasm what it may have lacked in numbers – and rightfully so; this was a lovely concert!
The opening work was the seven-movement Serenade in D, Op. 25, by Beethoven, for flute (Elizabeth Ransom), violin (Jacqui Carrasco) and viola (Scott Rawls). The opening "Entrada" starts in unison with a fanfare-like theme which set up a boisterous and enthusiastic mood for the afternoon. The subsequent movements included a most un-ordinary minuet (“Tempo ordinario d’un Menuetto”), punctuated by violin and viola arpeggios and including two “Trios” instead of the usual one, a quick gigue-like scherzo in D minor, a set of variations in G, another scherzo in a sharply dotted rhythm, a lively and nonchalant final rondo, ending in a presto and witty coda which left the audience tittering with mirth. Flutist Elizabeth Ransom has a beautiful tone, impeccable intonation and a quick and facile technique. Both violin and viola served as perfect foils and often prepared the road for the effervescent flute. Remarkable was the beginning of the 4th movement ("Andante con Variazioni") when they played a long passage in double stops, sounding like a full string quartet.
Joe Mount, horn-player and one of the organizers of the Carolina Summer Music Festival (along with Mss. Ransom and Carrasco), introduced the next work on the program, the Serenata in vano (“Serenade in vain”) by Danish composer, Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), known for his highly original and often quirky compositions. Mount explained (in the absence of program notes) that the work had been written expressly to complement the Beethoven Septet which was featured on the second half of the program, giving the violin and viola a short break. The title explains this short, seven-minute work: A lady is serenaded, but in vain, and the serenador stomps off in a self-indulgent march.
Starting almost as it ends, with V-I chord progression (“I’m here; look at me!”), the first section is a slow waltz or perhaps a pretentious minuet marked by many flowery triplets. A pompous pair of double bass solos (John Spuller) introduces an adagio with the horn (Mount) and bassoon (Carol Bernstorf) carousing around in parallel sixths and thirds. Then the pizzicato V-I in bass and cello (Alan Black) introduces the “oom-pah, oom-pah” march while the clarinet (Ron Rudkin) and bassoon cross swords in a lively counterpoint.
The entire second half of the concert was given to Beethoven’s popular Septet in E-flat, Opus 20. The instrumentation is novel and interesting: Beethoven uses a wind trio, three of the warm, mellow mid-range instruments, clarinet (Rudkin), bassoon (Bernstorf) and horn (Mount) combined with a string quartet, but not the string quartet Haydn immortalized in his five dozen quartets. Beethoven chose a quartet of one each violin, viola, cello and double bass, allowing the viola to be the true alto, the cello the true tenor and the bass the true bass. The result in a very homogenous string sound to match the warm blend of winds. (Franz Schubert followed suit 24 years later, but added a violin to the same septet instrumentation, in his famous Octet in F Major, D. 803.) Unfortunately, the set-up in the corner of the hall seemed to give preponderance to those instruments nearest the audience (violin and clarinet) and disfavored the bass at the back. So balance was often a problem, as was intonation occasionally in the Adagio and the Theme and Variations.
This early work of Beethoven, preceding even his first symphony, is cheerful and features many outstanding solos, especially for the violinist. And indeed, Jacqui Carrasco played the many difficult and sometimes break-neck solos brilliantly, especially the major cadenza in the last movement. This well-developed and longest (Andante con moto alla Marcia - Presto) of the six movements which comprise the septet is certainly a glimpse into the profound mind of the later mature Beethoven.
This Carolina Summer Music Festival is clearly a welcome addition to the Triad and has been a great success. We look forward to next summer’s festival and speak a loud “Thank you!” to the organizers and sponsors!