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Chamber music concerts presented by Brevard Music Center faculty are among the high points of the seven weeks of perpetual performance that constitutes the Brevard Music Festival. During his years as Artistic Director, David Effron added emphasis to the chamber music component of the student experience at BMC, and moved the faculty recitals from the open-air Straus Auditorium to the acoustically fine Porter Center on the Brevard College Campus. A large vote of thanks goes to the faculty members who somehow prepare collaborative concerts while simultaneously attending to their teaching duties.
Ever since the season was announced, I had looked forward to July 8. William Preucil, the concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, is among the BMC faculty for his fifth summer, and was to perform a concert “with friends” including pianist Bruce Murray. Mr. Murray would collaborate in Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano. Halfway through the third movement, a broad smile on Mr. Murray’s face told me that he knew it was good. After the final chords, the near-capacity audience was fully justified in giving a standing ovation. The large number of students in the hall along with the many retirement-age devotees knew they had heard a performance that would have made Beethoven smile like Murray. This was the finest live performance of the "Kreutzer" Sonata I have ever experienced.
Early in the performance, I stared at the hands of both Preucil and Murray and wished that I were an artist who could sketch the performers. The hands of both performers were things of beauty as they coaxed the composer’s intent from their instruments. Preucil’s body motions were a model for all performers. There was no unnecessary movement, but a lot of purposeful use of the body’s power. The pauses in the first movement became the calm before intense outbursts. In the Andante con variazioni, the performers intelligently dissected the theme. The piano’s opening chord of the Finale was a loud A major statement but one that was controlled, getting out of the way of the next notes. Throughout the Finale, the piano had a clarity that defied the fast tempo while never covering the complexity of the violin line.
Following intermission, Preucil was joined by violinist Thomas Joiner, cellist Felix Wang and the two violists Scott Rawls and Maggie Snyder to perform Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat, Op. 87. I look upon this 1845 work as a “string trio on steroids.” The presence in the ensemble of two violas as well as two violins (seldom doubling each other’s lines) leads to a richness of inner voices that reminds the listener of the celebrated Octet. Particularly in the slow third movement, the violas get a chance to provide passion and mystery in a way that a single viola cannot achieve in either a string quartet or a string trio. Mendelssohn made full use of the five instruments in his writing, and the musicians took advantage of this. Seated at the back, with two violins to starboard and two violas to port, cellist Felix Wang reminded one of a bosun steering a small boat. But neither the cellist nor the first violinist steered this musical ship; it was a collaborative effort among five fine players. The joyous energy of the final movement of the Mendelssohn brought the evening to a happy port. It was indeed “Fair winds and following seas” for a performance of music by the composer of the Hebrides Overture.