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It seems like every year there is less funding for the arts in schools, less interest in classical music among the general public, and in general an increasing amount of apathy towards the fine arts. So, while it is always enjoyable to hear a professional concert performed at the highest level, it is in some ways even more enjoyable simply to come together with other music lovers to hear amateurs show off what they have been working on between jobs, families, and other responsibilities, merely out of the love of music. The Asheville Cello Choir is just such a group, mostly comprised of amateurs, and last Sunday they performed an interesting recital at St. Matthias Church in Asheville.
Beginning the concert with an arrangement of Giovanni Gabrieli’s "Sonata Pian' e Forte," the group demonstrated from the start that they would not confine themselves to the common practice era. The piece was quite lovely, relying, as the title would imply, on dynamic contrasts to achieve its effect. The group performed with gusto, albeit with some intonation problems. An arrangement of an Adagio by W.A. Mozart followed; it also displayed some nice dynamic contrasts and pretty melodic lines but, again, there were some problems with intonation.
The middle of the concert consisted of works by lesser known composers, starting with Germanic early romantic composer Bernhard Romberg’s Andante. The group made a nice go of it, and Dean Angeles made a very good impression on the audience with his solo spots. Twentieth century British composer Colin Hampton’s "Hymn to St. Cecilia" was perhaps the high point of the entire concert. The gorgeous lines and lush harmonies were a very reverent hymn to the great Saint indeed, and the octet made the lines truly sing. Glenn Martin’s Passacaglia, in a minor key, was a dark sounding piece which allowed collective might of eight cellos to come through. It was performed with rhythmic drive and was a good finish to the “serious” part of the program.
Two twentieth century popular music selections rounded out the afternoon’s concert: Cream’s "I Feel Free" and "The Easy Winners" by ragtime favorite Scott Joplin. Unlike many classical ensembles who perform popular music, the octet got the right effect on both of these pieces, making them groove in a fun performance of these two slightly outside-the-box numbers.
While there were some intonation issues that detracted from the listening experience, overall the Asheville Cello Choir performed a gratifying concert. The repertoire was so well selected that many professional groups could take a page from the octet’s book. They played with enthusiasm and unpretentiousness that was refreshing. Here's hoping we hear more concerts of similar adventurousness at St. Matthias during the remainder of the season and in the years to come.