About 55 people assembled half an hour prior to the Carolina Chamber Music Festival concert time in First Baptist Church to hear a discussion with the Calyx Piano Trio — pianist Nina Ferrigno, violinist Catherine French, and cellist Jennifer Lucht. Unfortunately the discussion was totally unintelligible. The appalling sound system had a lot of bass gain, there was only one microphone on a cord being passed around, and the trio, along with Co-Artistic Director Anna Reinersman, who moderated, are all very poor performers on the modern sound system. They were all much more understandable during the concert when they spoke "unplugged." Once the concert began, things were much, much better.
The audience had swelled by 30 or 35 more by the time the music began. The program was entitled Conversations with Calyx. From the first notes of the opening Haydn piano trio (in B-flat, Hob. XV:20) it was obvious how these three performers were conversing with each other.
It was also obvious what a complex acoustic this room has. It has a floor like a drum and hard walls and ceiling, and there is plenty of sound; it sounds like a great cathedral. There was plenty of sound, very lush, and much more suited to Romantic music than to the precision of Haydn. The three played well together in this room that makes three sound like twenty. The room also emphasized the percussive quality of the piano; Ferrigno did a workmanlike job of taming this in her several lovely solo piano passages. The ensemble playing at first seemed to me to be very bombastic, but as the evening advanced I knew it was the room.
Ferrigno excelled again in the solo piano introduction to the andante cantabile second movement. One of the variations featured a very florid piano part against a stately subject played plainly like a chorale, ending in a pyrotechnic flourish at the end. I also particularly liked the finale:allegro with its marching bass line in three with lots of very precise keyboard flourishes to go with it.
Next came "Big Sky," by Joan Tower (b.1938). The long slow lines of dissonance that began it were stereotypical unimaginative haunted house music. The bone yard rattlings of the extreme high register of the piano maintained the macabre feeling of this piece. Calyx's performance was devoid of anything that might have been heard as a mistake.
Following "Big Sky" (not a hard act to follow) was Astor Piazzolla's "Primavera Porteña" (from Four Seasons of Buenos Aires), a rollicking, very musical danceable tango. The musical conversation in this piece included a lovely cello monologue which became a conversation as the violin entered neatly.
Following intermission, Calyx returned for what they had already described as the "big" piece of the evening, Dvorák's "Dumky" Trio (Piano Trio No. 4, in E minor), his signature piece from the 40-city farewell tour before his trip to the United States. It was delightful to see these musicians, how they watch one another. Their playing was clean and precise, forceful and tender. Their cooperation in the final movement was very expressive. They clearly had this music in their hearts before they began to play.
The Carolina Chamber Music Festival continues with additional events on Sept. 11 and 13; see our calendar or www.carolinachambermusic.org.