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Just in time for buying season or single tickets to the 2004 Spoleto Festival USA, a musical sampler appeared on February 25, in Owens Auditorium on the campus of Sandhills Community College. This was the first offering in an eleven-concert tour involving Spoleto Festival USA chamber musicians. After NC, the group visits Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. Consisting of core musicians of the past several seasons - violinist Chee-Yun, cellist Andrés Díaz, clarinetist Todd Palmer, and pianist Wendy Chen - it was emceed by founder and pianist Charles Wadsworth. All are equally at home as soloists and fully sympathetic with each other in chamber music. This was their second appearance on the Classical Concert Series; their first was at its old venue, the Sunrise Theatre in Southern Pines. The program was a good taste of what Wadsworth's programming is like, mixing old favorites with rarely played works.
Top-notch virtuosity and style were the order of the day in Saint-Saëns' First Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 7, played by Chee-Yun and Wendy Chen. CVNC 's review of this work at the 2000 festival reads "If an artist can be said to 'own' a piece, Chee-Yun has this one securely in her bank," and notes that Chen is " a powerhouse pianist." These traits remained true in the Pinehurst performance, with extraordinary precision in the dense and rapid violin parts and the piano, its lid fully raised, carefully balanced. The work received its full measure of fireworks and poetry. The interpretation begs to be preserved on a recording.
Wadsworth joined Chen for three brief but delightful forays into the literature for piano four hands by Dvorák. "Waldesruhe," better known from recordings for cello and orchestra, began as a piece (Op. 69/5) for piano four hands. This slow movement ranges from serene to ecstatic. The Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72/2, has a haunting sadness in the dumka dance style, while the Slavonic Dance in C Major is a swaggering furiant with cross-rhythms.
Beethoven was in a sunny mood when he wrote the Clarinet Trio in B-flat, Op. 11. The balances were superb among Palmer, Díaz and Chen. The second movement contains heartfelt dialogues between the cello and piano and the clarinet and cello, and the third movement is a series of perky variations based on the trio "Prio Ch'io l'impegno" from Joseph Weigl's opera L'amor marinaro .
After intermission, Wadsworth showed his mastery of French style when he joined Palmer for Debussy's test piece for the 1910 Prix de Rome, the first Rhapsodie, for clarinet and piano. Palmer made its colors, the rapid plays, and the work's extreme ranges seem effortless, and the series' founder's playing of the keyboard part showed that he still has his "chops."
In every survey done while Wadsworth headed the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Mendelssohn's First Piano Trio on D Minor, Op. 49, always made the top ten. Chee-Yun, Díaz, and Chen sent everyone home in a good mood with a beautifully balanced and phrased performance that fully communicated their joy in making music while breaking no new interpretive ground.
As an encore for these tours, pianist Stephen Prutsman composed a witty and very much tongue-in-cheek "I've Got Rhythm, Not!" for piano four hands, violin, cello and clarinet. This pastiche has a little of everything in addition to Gershwin; Chee-Yun even vamps as a "Bond Girl" as that well-known theme is heard.
It is too bad that the Spoleto Festival Chamber Music Tour group does not have a website; their schedule can, however, be found at Chee-Yun's page (http://www.chee-yun.net [inactive 10/09]). CVNC's overview of the 2004 offerings is posted in our news section, or see the 2004 Spoleto website at http://www.spoletousa.org/ .