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Chamber Music Review Print

Chamber Music for Organ and Friends

May 20, 2002 - Raleigh, NC:

Cellist Elizabeth Beilman and trumpeter Timothy Stewart, both of the North Carolina Symphony, teamed up with Meredith's organist Janet Cherry for an eclectic concert for this unusual instrument combination in Jones Chapel at Meredith College. Typical of concerts featuring unusual combinations of instruments, this one mixed and matched the three performers in various combinations, only at the end bringing them together in a Telemann Suite for Trumpet, Organ and Continuo.

Compared to a Gothic cathedral, Jones Chapel is modest in size but not in acoustic clout. The "liveness" of the space creates an echo worthy of Duke Chapel and a wonderful auditory canvas for even the most dense organ texture. The acoustics, combined with an excellent organ, give the impression of a much grander space. The addition of the cello and trumpet to the mix had both advantages and disadvantages. Beilman's cello acquired a booming resonance that allowed her to hold her own against the organ and trumpet. On the other hand, Stewart's staccato tended to blur and lose its punch. This was not much of a problem in the opening chorale prelude by Dietrich Buxtehude Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott, which was originally for organ alone but here performed with trumpet assuming one of the contrapuntal lines. It was however, more noticeable in the Telemann.

Beilman gave a sensitive performance of Bach's Suite No.5 in c minor for Cello Solo. This is a dark work, with the emphasis on the cello's lower register, enhanced by the scordatura tuning in which the upper string is lowered by a step to give an interval of a fourth. Performing this work on a modern cello with the high bridge makes it difficult to produce the polyphonic texture without putting more pressure on the strings than in a single voice part. The result made the Suite sound somber and heavy when combined with the booming acoustics of the hall.

Beilman and Cherry then performed a transcription of the adagio from Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in c minor, just about the only work for which he is known today. The transcription for cello and organ included ornamentation (for the original oboe version) allegedly by Bach. Because of the large range of the cello-far greater than the oboe's-this transcription employed octave transpositions for the cello in repeated phrases as part of the ornamentation, a feature that takes some getting used to.

The most obscure work on the program was one of the six organ sonatas by Felix Mendelssohn, composed late in his short life. Cherry performed No.4 in B flat Major, a work which bears little resemblance to the sonata as we are accustomed to think of it. While it has four movements with the predictable tempo markings of the form, the work is really a showpiece, clearly influenced by J.S. Bach, demonstrating how disparate themes can be combined and woven together contrapuntally. Cherry made good use of contrasting stops and dialogue between the two manuals to enhance the overall structure of the Sonata. Only once did she choose an inappropriate registration, holding a loud pedal point over a delicate figurative melody. Cherry warned us about the final movement, which nearly blew the roof off the small Chapel.

The program ended with the Telemann Suite. In addition to the unusual combination of instruments, Telemann gave a far greater role to the cello than is customary for a continuo instrument. Beilman had extensive duets with Stewart, who used alternately a trumpet and a cornet. He had a beautiful, expressive tone with excellent intonation. Cherry kept the organ volume down and, as mentioned earlier, the cello was able to take advantage of the acoustics to maintain the balance.

The performers gave excellent oral program notes with musical examples before the more unusual pieces, the Mendelssohn, Marcello and Bach. Comments from the stage are becoming more and more common; the best of them both inform the audience and cast a slightly different light on the musical personalities of the performers.