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On the afternoon of February 9 in Carswell Recital Hall, the Meredith Chamber Players, a youngish group with fluid personnel, gave a lovely recital featuring faculty members and an invited guest or two in various configurations in a program of music from various periods as well, featuring a chestnut of the repertoire, a neglected gem and a modern piece during the course of an hour and a half or so.
Opening the festivities was J.S. Bach's Trio Sonata in G, S.1039, here featuring two flutes, cello and harpsichord, played respectively by Pamela Nelson and Elizabeth Lester, Virginia Hudson, and Brenda Bruce. This was adapted by the composer from one of his gamba sonatas (S.1027) and is actually scored for more than that basic instrumentation, involving two oboes and two violins as well. It was, however, a delightful rendition, with perfect balance among the instruments. The allegro second movement was quite sprightly and the following adagio, appropriately stately. Next up was a Concertino in E flat by Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, a composer of the next generation now nearly completely forgotten although he was prolific and was one of Beethoven's teachers. The work is actually a sextet for string quartet, harpsichord and, originally, Jew's harp, but performed here on the trumpet by Don Eagle of the NC Symphony. The quartet was composed of cellist Hudson, violinists Dana Friedli and Lyda Cruden and violist Lisa Randolph with James Fogle at the keyboard. Balance was not as ideal here, with the trumpet often overpowering albeit never completely burying the strings in this small all-brick hall that is perhaps too live for brass instruments. The work is obviously a real bear for the trumpet soloist, but Eagle rose to the challenge even if he did give expression to fatigue and exertion after each movement. The performance was impressive and the music enjoyable, undeserving of the neglect into which it has fallen.
After a brief intermission announced from the stage but not in the printed program (which also had Fogle at a piano rather than the harpsichord in the previous piece), a work by the pupil was featured: Beethoven's First String Quartet, Op. 18/1, in F, was presented by the same musicians who formed the core of the Concertino. It was a good performance; the opening allegro had plenty of the brio called for and the succeeding adagio was especially lovely. The scherzo and the concluding allegro could perhaps have been a bit sprightlier but were effective. The afternoon ended with Libby Larsen's "Barn Dances," reprised from the composer's residency on the campus about a year ago by the musicians who played it then, flutist Nelson, pianist Kent Lyman, and clarinetist Jimmy Gilmore. It was good to be able to hear the work again. The individual movements are interesting and pleasant, but on second hearing the raison d'être of their being assembled together did not seem especially apparent, musically. This is no reflection on the performance, which if anything seemed better than my recollection of the first presentation (which took place in the much larger Jones Auditorium, a far less appropriate venue for chamber music). The third movement, "Varsouvianna (A Simple Dream Waltz)," for example, had nothing Western about it to relate it to the stated inspiration of the work as an Homage to Gene Autry - indeed, it was far more dream-like than waltz-like. The work was nonetheless a lighthearted way to end the afternoon.
Printed program notes were provided, plucked from various web sites. Some of them were quite good - a capsule bio of Beethoven, for example - while much was either too lengthy and detailed or wholly unrelated to the works presented. Some editing would have helped: the announcement of a forthcoming 1996 Larsen CD seemed strange, as did a sentence structure making Beethoven a "master of the Baroque artform"! These teacher musicians just are too pressed for time to perform this task, it would appear. Perhaps some student assistance could be taken advantage of in the future? Who in the department will take it upon her or himself to organize that worthy project? Good artist bios were also included in the printed materials.
It is good to see these mentors performing together with invited guests to complete the personnel needed in collaborative efforts in a chamber music setting on their own turf in addition to their solo efforts and collaborative work with other musicians off campus. It is a good way to help the school's department build up its offerings and increase its emphasis on strings and chamber playing for the students. A performance like this in a program this diverse sets an outstanding example for them, too. It was also good to see such a large number of young - very young, in fact - people in the fair-sized audience. They were students in the Suzuki program. But where were the Meredith students?