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I have attended or at least sampled every Eastern Music Festival since 1978. The presence of an eclectic chamber music work by Serge Prokofiev on the program, given in the acoustical warmth of the UNC Greensboro Recital Hall, brought back fond memories of my first hearing of this work on an EMF program in the 1980s. Festival performances then, and even more so now, provide opportunities to hear a broader repertoire than the same basic fare heard on the few serious music radio stations left. This program featured no star visiting soloist so it was a golden opportunity to hear the extraordinarily high standard of the EMF faculty musicianship.
Early music fanciers may remember lively music heard on a DDG Archive recording by Collegium Terpsichore of dance music from Terpsichore by Michael Praetorius (1571-1621), one of a family of German musicians of the same Latinized surname but whose true patronymic was some version of Schulze. He was strongly influenced by the latest Italian styles, such as works of Giovanni and Andrea Gabrieli, which he received via Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). While the EMF players fielded no crumhorns or sackbuts, they turned in lively, polished versions of six dances arranged by Dean for multiple types of trumpets played by Jeffrey Kaye and Judith Saxton, Kevin Reid, horn, Gregory Cox, trombone, and Lee Hipp, tuba. All played their instruments brilliantly and seamlessly. The first dance, "Ballet de Genoville," was slow and chorale-like, involving all five musicians. A pair of "Courantes" began with a duet for tuba and trumpet before the others joined, leading to a lively finish. "Pavane de Spalgne" opened with an extended horn solo before it was joined by the trombone and followed by a shifting pattern of textures by all five players. "La Bouree" was a very lively dance with a droning tuba and some trilling trumpet notes. High notes and unusual pairings characterized "Three Bransles," while the concluding "Volte" displayed all the players' ability to play precisely no matter the complexity and speed of the tempo.
The Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, and Double Bass, Op. 39, brought back warm memories of an early 1980s EMF performance enhanced by the extraordinary rich, solid low range of the principal bass. According to Claude Samuel's Prokofiev, Opus 39 was commissioned by the '"Wandering Ballets" of Romanov who wanted a ballet inspired by circus life under the title Trapeze. This remarkably rich and original score consists of six movements and makes use of polytonal scoring, now joyful and then nostalgic melodic themes, bounding rhythms, and complex harmonic patterns. The extremes of the instruments' ranges are fully exploited, and the scoring for woodwinds is delightfully pungent! The opening of the second movement features a truly sepulchral, visceral solo for the double bass while all the players' agility is tested in the surprising fast finish to the concluding sixth movement. The third movement features driving rhythms and sassy, swirling woodwinds while the fourth opens with a lovely oboe solo set against droning strings. The fifth movement combines string pizzicatos and some extraordinarily astringent, brash bowing for the strings. The superb players were oboist Randall Ellis, clarinetist Shannon Scott, violinist Jeremy Preston, violist Meredith Crawford, and double-bassist Leonid Finkelshteyn.
The great emotional turmoil due to the First World War that Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) experienced does not show in the masterful exploration of color and texture of his Piano Trio in A minor. EMF pianist James Giles, violinist Jessica Guideri, and cellist Danielle Guideri turned in a performance worthy of one of the established touring piano trios. What a kaleidoscopic palette was conjured up by Gile's opening solo piano notes! The players took great care with the dynamics, creating ravishing, quiet passages. Both string players produced gorgeous harmonics. The ensemble's performance was breathtaking and richly satisfying. This basic repertoire piece was given its full due.
The EMF continues through July 30.