Review: An Age of Elegance

A concert title can mean quite a lot…or it can mean nothing.  For those who prepare and program, it exists for either the purposes of decision-making or decision-explaining.  And for an audience, it can possibly offer an abstract background on which to form their mental musical impressions.

The University of Tennessee School of Music has chosen to title this season’s Faculty Chamber Music Series Music of the Ages—a broad title under which the three concerts hang.  Sunday’s opening concert, An Age of Elegance, chose from three ages that we, with historical rose-colored glasses, like to consider elegant: the first and second halves of the 18th century and pre-revolutionary Russia.  However, as bow touches string and air rushes through brass, all that can quickly be forgotten and we can just listen.

The faculty quartet of David Northington, piano; Mark Zelmanovich, violin; Hillary Herndon, viola; and Wesley Baldwin, cello; opened the concert with the Mozart Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, K. 478.  The performance was richly entertaining in its liveliness, and the Mozart moments of assertiveness were nicely traded off.  Yet, despite the musicality of the performance, it was apparent that the four players do not regularly perform as an ensemble.  Of course, that in and of itself is not a negative, but rather a fact of chamber music and of academic life.  However a few instances of glaring violin intonation issues, and its somewhat disappointing lack of unity of tone with the excellent viola and cello, did keep the performance out of the truly superior category for this listener.

I am a big lover of the cantatas of J.S. Bach, both the sacred and secular, so the next items on the program were a welcome inclusion.  Soprano Cecily Nall and mezzo soprano Lorraine DiSimone performed two soprano/alto duets from Bach cantatas: “Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten” from Jesu, der du meine Seele (BWV 78) and “Entziehe dich eilends, mein Herze, der Welt” from Meinen Jesum laß ich nicht (BWV 124).  The two singers were delightful in both pieces.  I couldn’t help but wish, though, that Nall and DiSimone had a bit more distinctive difference in vocal tone for the soprano/alto duets.

With perhaps a wink, wink, nudge, nudge at the idea of elegance, the Brasswind Quintet, the men sporting eye-catching ties, solidly and cleanly concluded the program with a brass quintet from the Russian civil engineer and amateur cellist and composer, Victor Ewald—the Quintet No. 2.  The Brasswind Quintet consists of Cathy Leach and T.J. Perry, trumpets; Calvin Smith, horn; Daniel Cloutier, trombone; and Sande MacMorran, tuba.

The series continues in November with An Age of Revolution with works by Brahms, Shostakovich, and Messiaen.

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