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Summer and chamber music go hand in hand, but this festival is more like a homecoming. Dr. Edith Gettes, director of the Chapel Hill Youth Violin Ensemble and president of Music For Children welcomed the audience, many of whom were associated with the performers as students, family and friends. Their program included two major chamber works by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and a sextet by W.A. Mozart (1756-1791).
Inspired by the clarinetist, Richard Mühlfeld, Brahms broke his intention to retire when he penned some of his most important instrumental works, including the tour de force Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op.115 (1891). This performance featured Richard Dryer (clarinet). He was joined by Jennifer Curtis and Rob Rempher (violins), Suzanne Russo (viola), and Jason Thomas (cello). Their reading was beautiful.
Like Brahms’ symphonies, this quintet reveals his disciplined but moody sensibility. The first (Allegro) of four movements is lengthy and it exploits every possible combination available to the composer; from violin pairings to rich counterpoint. Abrupt changes in dynamics and subtle harmonic alterations reminded me of the ever changing cloud formations before a summer thunderstorm. The amazing trick of the clarinetist is to sneak in and out of the quartet fabric, his solo passages like a bird flying through dangerous weather. Dryer, whose tone is beautiful, does this with agility and grace. I loved the inner movements; the weather calms and we hear singing melodies, particularly for the clarinet and violin. Like a painter using her best sable brush, Curtis carefully blended into the color of the clarinet. By the end of the third movement (Andante) however, the scurry of moto perpetuo and rhythmic tension signal that more is brewing. The final movement, a theme and variation set ‘brings it all home’ and we hear, once again, the opening theme, the crash of thunder and soft repose.
The middle piece was a sextet version of W.A. Mozart’s beloved Sinfonia Concertante, K.364, which he penned while living in Salzburg in 1779. Reconfigured for strings and referred to as Grande Sestetto Concertante, the parts are more or less evenly distributed. This makes for an altogether different listening experience, one you could appreciate from your living room, perhaps. For example, the oboes and horns are conspicuously missing in the last movement. But, the first cello part, played superbly by Roman Placzek, makes a richly distinct difference. Emi Hildebrandt (first violin) led the ensemble with great precision and Matthew Chicurel played the first viola part with great heart. I enjoyed the more intimate version of the piece, but I’ll probably leave my Mozart recordings in the same order — with the original on top.
Also on the program was Brahms’ String Sextet in B-flat, Op. 18 (1860). Petra Berényi (viola) also known for her expertise on the cimbalom, joined this ensemble.
It was a lovely evening, in a beautiful setting and for a very worthy cause. Good things are happening in the music world; and in this little corner of the universe, children are already part of an enlightened 21st century.