Chamber Music Review

BMC's Schubertiad: Did You Hear Something?

July 3, 2006 - Brevard, NC:

Brevard Music Center's summer chamber music series is held in the Porter Center at Brevard College. Scott Concert Hall, arguably the finest concert hall in the region, has a vast wood stage, and because the upper balcony extends forward along the sides, there is no proscenium. Artists enter from the right directly into a huge space that is ideal for chamber music. Also, the capacity of c.700 is nearly perfect for the Music Center's regular audience. A mix of the 400 students plus faculty and staff together with locals means a full house nearly every time.

So you can understand why thunderous applause and cheers can sound significant at intermission. The first half was published as Andrew Cooperstock and Douglas Weeks at the piano for Schubert's Grand Rondo, D.951. Recall that the last time Weeks played here, he was with the Miami String Quartet, and along with composer Dohnányi, they nearly took the roof off the place. Five lieder followed with soprano Carmen Pelton accompanied by John Greer at the piano: "Ganymed," "Geheimes," "Versunken," "Du bist die Ruh," and "Auflösung."

I say "published" because thanks to a combination of sequential delays traced back through late afternoon and two counties I was late arriving for this program. What I heard about the first half came from the audience, which was cheering its approval as I entered the hall. During intermission there were many smiling faces of inspired student vocalists and various other awe-struck youth. This is good and wonderful to find. The performers too were pleased, and they received well-wishers and many congratulations in the Green Room. The performance must have been something.

So I was pretty pumped about hearing the second half, the lone Octet in F, D.803, for two violins, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn. This is a six-movement work structured as slow-fast, not as slow, fast, slow, minuet (trio), then intro-fast. The players were BMC faculty David Salness, William Terwillinger, Scott Rawls, Aron Zelkowicz, Kevin Casseday, Steven Cohen, William Ludwig and John Ericson. They played well, the balance, articulation and intonation were fine, and the hall itself returned a flattering luster to the overall ensemble. If we leave it at that – a setting of the work, the players, the instruments and general form – we're probably okay. Had to be great, right? You'd think this would improve nearly anyone's disposition.

But I've got to tell you, this thing bored me to death. The effect gave me a complete understanding of a five-year-old's attention span. Generally speaking, the music was tuneful enough but fairly staid, and it lacked a sense of surprise or adventure. I drifted farther and farther away from the hall – mentally – before recognizing what was happening and quickly pulled myself back. The work took a long time to get going so I went through that cycle so many times I soon felt like a yo-yo. By the third movement, things started to pick up. The sixth movement has an easy-listening adagio and then leaps into a sprightly allegro that sounded like it would break into the familiar bars of Brahms' "Academic Festival" Overture at any time.

But all my effort didn't improve the evening – or my view of the piece – and I left wondering what the hell I was going to say about this thing. I mean, first off I was late and missed the first two acts! Then, I could barely tolerate the entire second half.

In the end my personal assessment of the Octet is that it served the student audience admirably by posing theory in practice, demonstrated the long curve in organizational structure, and is probably fun to play. I just couldn't stay with it.