Chamber Music Review



EMF: Chamber Music at Reynolda House

July 13, 2008 - Winston-Salem, NC:


The Eastern Music Festival is presenting seven community outreach concerts this season. They take place from Appalachian State University in the West to Elon University, High Point University, and Wake Forest University's idyllic Reynolda House in Winston-Salem. This program drew elements from the EMF's all-faculty chamber music series. The intimate Babcock Hall in the new addition of Reynolda House is an ideal venue for performance, and the added bonus of a matinee concert is the view of the sylvan setting visible through tall windows placed in the rear corners of the stage.

Beginning during Sheldon Morgenstern's era, the EMF has programmed Entartete Musik (Forbidden Music), compositions by composers imprisoned and slaughtered by the Nazis. Many of this generation of composers of Western Music, students of Debussy, Janácek, and Kodály, were lost to our culture. Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) received early encouragement from Dvorák and studied with Claude Debussy and Max Reger. His style drew upon Czech folk music, American jazz, and some of the newest music such as using quarter-tones. This very versatile composer was killed in the Würzburg concentration camp when he was just reaching midlife. His spare Concertino for Flute, Viola, and Double-bass, which dates from 1925, sometimes suggested the sound worlds of Bartók, Hindemith, Janácek, and Stravinsky. Ann Choomack played the flute and piccolo and was joined by violist Jamie Hoffman with R. Meredith Johnson on double-bass. Intonation was excellent and the ensemble was tight. The full, warm string tone made a fine contrast to the bright, focused sound of the flute.

Piano faculty member Gideon Rubin turned in a riveting performance of the Variations on the name "Abegg" in F, Op. 1 by Robert Schumann (1810-1856). The festival's program book had a double-sided insert that included Steven Ledbetter's excellent notes, which in this case succinctly delineated all the key relationships used by the composer in building his variations. Rubin brought out all the poetry and power of this significant early work.

Before he died, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) burned countless unpublished scores including numerous chamber music works. In the case of his Piano Trio in B minor, Op. 8, we can compare a surviving early work, the original published version of 1854, and the significantly overhauled final 1891 version. It is too bad his publisher did not follow the composer's suggestion that the last version should be labeled Op. 108. The 1854 version has been recorded a few times but the final version, which is shorter by one third, is the version usually played, as it was in this concert. It received a warmly Romantic performance from pianist Yoshikazu Nagai, violinist Shawn Weil, and cellist Neal Cary. The keyboard versus string balance was excellent and the musicians' choices of phrasing and of tempos was convincing.