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Continuing their summer residency in the Kirby Horton Hall at Duke Gardens, the Ciompi Quartet presented "Then I Knew 'Twas Wind," a program solely featuring works for flute, harp, and viola. Ciompi violist Jonathan Bagg welcomed guest artists Laura Gilbert, flutist, and harpist Stacey Shames, both of whom are members of the Aureole Trio, albeit with a different violist. The concert was intimately dazzling in the woodsy space, with views of Duke Garden's foliage through the windows. The program choices seemed to reflect this, featuring several atmospheric works inspired by nature. The trio worked harmoniously together to recreate the atmosphere of each piece on the program.
French composer Charles Koechlin's Epitaphe de Jean Harlow, surprisingly bold considering its inspiration, opened the concert. Shames led the trio with swift and slightly unpredictable chord changes in a lightly pulsing triple meter. The piece is pastoral, with moments of yearning; the three musicians brought this juxtaposition to life. Interestingly, records indicate that Koechlin began composition of this piece in February 1937 and had a first performance in May of that year; Harlow's death occurred in June. Ultimately, the version that is played today was finalized later in that year.
The overall program's sense of inspiration from nature could be attributed to Christopher Weiss' Three New Hampshire Postcards, each of which take inspiration from an aspect of the composer's home state. Despite having clear titles, ("Backyard Creek," "December Sky, 2AM," "Like Soft Rain Upon Leaves"), the sections are not derivative or clichéd; as played here, they suggested imagination and wonder, rather than exact images.
To introduce the program's titular piece, Gilbert explained that "And Then I Knew 'Twas Wind," by Toru Takemitsu, has special meaning to the group, as it was premiered in the same year that the Aureole Trio was created (1992). The title, an excerpt from an Emily Dickinson poem, emphasizes what the music suggests: the gentle but telltale signs that a thunderstorm is about to begin. The three artists deftly handled subtle imitation and a seeming lack of meter, which emphasized Takemitsu's desire to write free and organic-sounding music. This piece had the most active and unique textures in the program thus far, with Shames even using her metal tuning key to bend her harp's pitches. Although sometimes dissonant, the music rolls down to a consonant, peaceful ending.
Harald Genzmer's Trio for flute, viola, and harp, described by Bagg as "very German" (in contrast to Takemitsu's Debussy leanings), is just that, but nonetheless beautiful. The Andante first movement features clear motives traded among the three instruments in lush textures. Movements two and four feature robust hints of folk tunes in the harmonies. The latter, a theme and variations, proved to be a highlight of the work, with clever modulations and playful exchange between viola, harp, and flute. The grand ending of this movement made sure that the entire concert ended with a flourish.
The last of this summer's Ciompi series will be presented on August 15. For details, click here.