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The Jewel Edgerton Williamson Chamber Music Series has evolved into one of the true musical assets of the area. Not only does it frequently present rarely heard music, but it also affords the opportunity to hear members of the NCS individually, rather than as part of an anonymous tutti. Monday night's concert fulfilled both categories, featuring a fine ensemble of musicians who are not first chairs and a work that neither of us had ever heard before, the Sextet for Solo Viola, Piano and String Quartet by Joaquín Turina. An added bonus was the "coming out" of the featured instrument: the viola, that necessary but underrated inner voice and the butt of a whole web site of self-deprecating viola jokes .
The program, consisting of only two works, opened with violinists Rebekah Binford and Oskar Ozolinch, violists David Marschall and Sandra Schwarcz and cellist John McClellan performing Mozart's String Quintet in C Major, K.515. This quintet, together with its twin, the one in g Minor, K.516, are among Mozart's more moving chamber music. The unusual combination of two violins, two violas and cello provide a unique sound and the opportunity for the violas to shine, especially in the third movement, where the first viola engages in an extended dialogue with the first violin. Binford and Marschall movingly rendered this lovely duet, and since Marschall's viola has a big sound, its voice balanced perfectly with Binford's violin. Our only quibble is that we would have welcomed a more sprightly tempo in the last movement, in large part because the Quintet itself offers little contrast in pacing.
Joaquin Turina (1882-1949) is one of a handful of Spanish composers of the 20th century who tried to bring his native Spanish music into the Classical mainstream. His Sextet for Solo Viola, Piano and String Quartet, composed in 1912, is subtitled "Escena Andaluza." The Sextet has a minimal program, in which the violist assumes the role of a suitor serenading his beloved. Turina used melodies from his native Andalusia for the two movements entitled "Twilight" and "At the Window." As such, the work is a showcase for the solo viola, playing in duet with the piano, while the other strings serve mostly as background accompaniment. Marschall's strong playing was moving and caught the Spanish flavor of the rhythm and melodies.
Turina's work seldom utilizes the sound of the entire ensemble, more often isolating the piano, the string quartet and the solo viola in conjunction with one or the other. Turina was strongly influenced by Debussy and, in this Sextet, by Ernest Chausson's Concert for Violin, Piano and String Quartet. Turina's Spanish sonorities are the equivalent of Chausson's decidedly French sound.
It seems that the Williamson Series at Peace is increasingly becoming the vehicle for NC Symphony musicians to mix and match in chamber ensembles of all types and sizes. What a marvelous opportunity for musicians and audience alike to become more intimately acquainted with each other and with unfamiliar repertory.