Chamber Music Review



Delights of Summer

July 11, 2004 - Chapel Hill, NC:


If CVNC were in the concert-giving business, it's clear that the best time to put on shows would be January (if the weather were cooperative), July, and August. Take July - please! (Not a variation on Henny Youngman, but it could pass....) July is largely ADF and EMF, plus Summerfest, if you're so inclined. So just about anyone doing anything else is bound to draw a crowd of deprived (if not downright depraved) culture vultures - or music lovers, if you prefer.

And if one were to do a concert in the summer, there are few better places than wildly sophisticated Chapel Hill, where so many wonderful things take place during the rest of the year. As it happened, there was a concert in Chapel Hill, at the Public Library, on Sunday afternoon, July 11. It was put on by ten amateurs (we use the word in its classic, best sense), and it was quite a varied and rewarding show. It's a measure of Chapel Hill's sophistication that its citizens don't merely consume music - they also make it. And among the ranks of the ten artists who put on the program under discussion were three doctors (of medicine) and folks from many other walks of life. Apparently, only one had earned her living as a musician. Pretty impressive, eh?

And the program was varied and attractive, too. It began with a lovely transcription for oboe and strings of the slow movement of Mozart's K.285 Flute Quartet. It was handsomely played by Paul Baerman and violinist Jennifer Weizer, violist Kathryn Baerman, and cellist Richard Clark. The transcription was by Sara Lambert Bloom, whose other half was the famous oboist, Robert. If there's more where this movement came from, here's hoping we hear it sometime.

Cynthia Harris then played François Devienne's Third Quartet, for bassoon and strings, accompanied by the aforementioned trio. It's a lovely work, too, and one could easily mistake it for Mozart. The printed program didn't include the tempi for the movements, and there was applause after the substantial first one, as people thought the piece was over. The briefer concluding sections are attractive enough, but the heart of the piece comes early. Overall, the performance had a great deal going for it.

The string trio welcomed back oboist Baerman for Britten's "Phantasy" Quartet, an early but nonetheless knotty and doubtless difficult score. This writer knew it only from recordings, and hearing it in the flesh demonstrated its wildly varied qualities. While grateful for the opportunity and appreciative of the effort that clearly went into preparing it, I'll pull a weasel from the hat and say that another hearing or two (or three) may be needed fully to assess its merits.

The short concert ended with a delightful romp through two movements of Louis Spohr's Grand Nonetto, Op. 31, for strings (violinist Betty Pease, violist Baerman, Clark, and bassist Dan Thune) and winds (flutist Cathy Phipps, oboist Baerman, clarinetist Gerald Mohn, Harris, and hornist Annette Ellis). There were some problems here and there - some of the playing was ragged, the ensemble was not always spot-on, and there were occasional pitch sags - but the spirit and enthusiasm of the players in this great big piece carried the day. The capacity crowd - the low-ceilinged meeting room was full - applauded appreciatively and the artists were recalled several times. When it was over, it was still miserably hot outside, but the concert had provided relief of a different sort, and there seemed to be no unhappy souls on the way out.