Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Highlands, NC

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Highlands-Cashiers chamber Music Festival

The Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival lasts for a little over a month.  I attended “The Best of Brahms” concert at the Highlands Performing Arts Center. 
Highlands is a beautiful small town in the hills of the south Appalachians.  It has one of those perfect little main streets lined with stores that peddle those oh-so-precious things that make some people’s hearts go pitter pat.  It’s the kind of place where older men lean on the store fronts while their wives melt the credit cards on today’s treasures.  This is an enclave of white, well-heeled people.  I did not see one even reasonably tanned face in the whole town.  But I digress. 

The program included:

Violin Sonata in A Major
Trio for clarinet, cello and piano
Trio for horn, violin and piano

The performers were: Timothy Fain, violin; Chris Rex, cello; Elizabeth Pridgen, and William Ransom, piano; Laura Ardan, clarinet; Brice Andrus, horn

I am a great admirer of Brahms music so this was a touch of wonderful for me.  The Violin sonata featured Fain and Ransom.  Fain is a young player with a very warm tone in his playing.  He also musters quite a big sound for the violin.  Ransom offered his usual competent accompaniment, although I could have done without the patent leather shoes.  This piece is beautiful that I can truly “be in the moment” when listening to it. 

The Trio for clarinet, cell, and piano featured Ardan, Rex, and Ransom.  Ardan is simply the best.  She is principal clarinetist for the Atlanta Symphony and her playing is sensitive, strong, and is equally talented with the pianissimo and the forte.  She also enjoys playing music and is fun to watch.  Rex is principal cellist for the ASO and is also a remarkable musician.  A few times during the work, I thought the balances between the clarinet and cello was a bit off, but nothing major. 

The final trio for horn, violin and piano featured Fain, Andrus, and Pridgen.  The audience of about 200 provided the performance with a standing ovation.  Not from me, however.  The balances between the instruments were way off.  Andrus, principal horn of the ASO, often was too loud and he overwhelmed the violin, although Fain fought a good fight.  There were also intonation problems with the horn, which I grant is a notoriously difficult instrument to play. However, this performance was so grating that the glory of the music was lost.  I have frequently been critical of the ASO horn section, and its tendency to slide into notes and for intonation problems.  The legacy continues. 

The Highlands Performing Arts Center looks like some kind of repurposed building.  It’s nice for such a small town and its acoustics were very supportive of the music. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Peachtree United Methodist

Tom Trenney presented a recital as part of the Atlanta Summer Organ Festival at the Peachtree United Methodist Church.  This is a large performing space that has less reverberation than the previous recital at St. Phillips, but it still has that cathedral-like sound.  From the churches website:  The Great Organ of Peachtree Road, installed by Mander Organs of London, England, is the largest mechanical action 
organ ever built by a British organ builder.  With mechanical action, the oldest type of organ action, the motions of the player are translated through long wooden strips made from cedar, commonly called “trackers.”  This provides a direct mechanical link from each note on the keyboard to the different divisions of the organ.

Mr. Trenney is the Minister of music from First Plymouth Church in Lincoln, NE.  In fact I have the opportunity to hear him play in Lincoln last weekend.
The program consisted of works spanning some 40 0 years.  The first was Bach’s Fugue in E-Flat Major (“St. Anne”).  Maybe it was warm up issues, or jitters, but I though the piece tended to wander a bit and did not seem to have the tightness that is characteristic of Bach. 

The second piece “A Teller of Tales (A Suite of Stories from Childhood) by Jennifer A. Connor.  This work is colorful and the musical representation of the childhood tales is on target, for example in The Tortoise and the Hare: The Race.  Since Trenney had premiered this work, his was very familiar with it and his playing showed it.  This was followed by a work by Sweelinck that demonstrated the organ’s ability to play early as well as romantic era pieces. 

Three French fantasies by Alain, Vierne and Franck followed.  The Franck Choral No. 1 in E Major enabled Trenney to show off the capabilities of the Mander Organ.  Finally, Trenney did humorous Improvisations on Submitted themes, including “America the Beautiful” and “Whistle While You Work.”  Each them was reworked as a Prelude, Fugue, Scherzo or Toccata.  These were cleverly done and shows Trenney’s  mastery over traditional musical forms for the organ.

Trenney introduced each piece. His presentations were engaging and informative.  He seemed very comfortable in his narrative role. 

This was most enjoyable recital by a very talented organist in a beautiful church with a magnificent organ. 

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