The Mallarmé Chamber Players honor their friends and supporters annually with a concert and light refreshments in one of the area's larger private homes. This year's event was held in the home of Karen Allred and Jack Griffith, a charming old farmhouse to which they have added a modern wing, including a large music room. The performers at the short concert were flutist Joanna Sisk-Purvis, violinist Jennifer Curtis, violist Petra Berenyi, cellist Fred Raimi, and oboist Bo Newsome, who was also the composer of one of the works performed.
The program opened with Benjamin Britten's Phantasy, Op. 2. for oboe and string trio. Composed in 1932 for famed oboist Leon Goossens, it was the first work to bring the composer world attention. It is not only a virtuoso piece for oboe but also explores a wide variety of techniques for strings, including pizzicato and col legno (with the wood of the bow). It opens with a hesitating march for the cello as if coming from a distance, taken up by the other strings. The oboe eventually enters with a contrasting cantabile line that forms the principal theme of the work and gives it its structural unity. The Phantasy ends with the same mysterious march-like theme on the cello that opened it. The lively performance emphasized Newsome's smooth tone counterbalanced by Raimi’s rumbling cello in the opening and closing march, which reminded me of the broom coming to life in Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
Newsome composed Unconscious Spiral for flute, violin and viola in 2002, dedicating it to flutist Anna Wilson, in honor of her unflagging work to create and sustain the Mallarmé Chamber Players. Consequently the flutist has the starring role in the work and its rapidly changing moods and tempi make it a serious challenge despite its lighthearted mood. Sisk-Purvis' lovely tone was well balanced by Curtis, Berenyi and Raimi.
The program ended with a sizzling performance of Max Reger's Serenade in G, Op. 141a, for flute, violin, and viola. Known better for the quantity than for the quality of his music, Reger nearly hit it right in this charming piece, although the themes are as usual overly sentimental and all the instruments play nearly all the time. The performance made the work sound better than it is, minimizing the sentimentality and maintaining clear melodic lines.
In all, it was a great way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon among friends. With the retirement of Anna Wilson, the Mallarmé Chamber Players was slated to be disbanded this season, but luckily for the Triangle, the board decided to keep it going, we hope for many years to come.