Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Letter V Classical Radio this week

With the start of the fall semester at the University of Richmond, the show’s hours change.

Aug. 28
noon-2 p.m. EDT
1600-1800 UTC
1700-1900 GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Aaron Jay Kernis: “New Era Dance”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/David Zinman (Argo)

J.S. Bach: Suite (Overture)
No. 4 in D major,
BWV 1069
Akademie für alte
Musik, Berlin
(Harmonia Mundi France)

Respighi: “Trittico botticelliano”
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra/Hugh Wolff

Jennifer Higdon: “Zaka”
eighth blackbird

Past Masters:
Mendelssohn: Symphony
No. 4 in A major
National Philharmonic/
Leopold Stokowski
(recorded 1977)
(Sony Classical)

Mozart: Rondo in A minor,
K. 511
Lars Vogt, piano (EMI Classics)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: Richmond Chamber Players

Aug. 24, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

In “A Nightmare Before Halloween,” the final program of their 2014 Interlude series, the Richmond Chamber Players departed from their norm in several respects. One was the rare addition of a harpist, Richmond Symphony principal Lynette Wardle, to the proceedings. Another was the insertion of recitations, by John Winn, better-known as a jazz reed player and teacher, before a couple of selections.

The more conventional spoken introduction was an abridgement of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” before André Caplet’s “Conte fantastique,” a 1919 work for harp and string quartet that depicts Poe’s story in sound.

Far less expected – out of the blue, really – was a reading of Macbeth’s soliloquy on the death of Lady Macbeth (“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow/Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”) from Act 5 of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play,” delivered before the central largo of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1, known as the “Ghost” Trio.

Whyfor? Cellist Neal Cary recounted a tale told by Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny, that the trio’s slow movement was drawn from a sketch for an opera on “Macbeth,” which Beethoven never developed. (Perhaps one of the great “ones that got away” of classical music. Or maybe not: Other than Verdi’s “Otello,” operatic treatments of Shakespearian tragedies haven’t lived up to the originals; and, as the laborious evolution of “Fidelio” reminds us, opera didn’t come naturally to Beethoven.)

“Conte fantastique,” a more or less literal sonic echo of Poe’s narrative, is full of chilling sound effects, borrowed from quite liberally by composers of horror-movie scores, who evidently know this piece better than the rest of us. Harpist Wardle and the quartet of violinists Alana Carithers and Susy Yim, violist Stephen Schmidt and cellist Cary italicized those chills, giving special emphasis to the spooky combination of harp and low-register cello tones.

Their vivid rendering of the score’s impressionistic effects were a reminder of Caplet’s close association with Claude Debussy (Caplet’s orchestrations of “Clair de lune” and “The Children’s Corner” are better-known than his own works.)

Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio, played by Carithers (substituting on short notice for an indisposed Catherine Cary), Cary and pianist John Walter, received a stylish reading, but one that needed more intensity and tension, especially in its “Macbeth” movement.

Yim, accompanied by Walter, took on the daunting task of playing Giuseppe Tartini’s Violin Sonata in G minor, the (in)famous “Devil’s Trill,” a showpiece for virtuoso fiddlers for nearly 300 years. Yim acquitted herself more than respectably in this rendition, taking a brisk but not lickety-split pace, trilling and double-stopping ably, utilizing the tonal resources of a modern violin and wisely not trying to play in “historically informed” style.

Wardle and the string quartet preceded the Caplet with a performance of Liszt’s “At the Grave of Richard Wagner,” a brief elegy that at its best evokes Wagner’s last opera, “Parsifal.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: Summer at CenterStage

Susanna Klein & Ross Monroe Winter, violins
Charles Staples, piano
Aug. 21, Richmond CenterStage

For some years, the go-to guy in Richmond for Big Piano Music, especially major romantic works, has been Charles Staples. For technique, temperament and sheer stamina, no other pianist in these parts (and not many visitors) can touch him.

Staples excelled on those counts – and on exuberance, to boot – in solo performances of Brahms’ Intermezzo in E flat major, Op. 117, No. 1, and Rhapsody in G minor, Op. 79, No. 2; and in partnering violinist Susanna Klein in Brahms’ Sonata in D minor, Op. 108, and accompanying Klein and violinist Ross Monroe Winter in two pieces from Shostakovich’s “Gadfly” Suite.

In the intermezzo, which Staples described as “a Scottish lullaby in German,” the pianist demonstrated his deftness in coloring and subtle phrasing. In the larger Brahms rhapsody and sonata, he up-shifted in volume, intensity and drama, to often thrilling effect, although at the cost of some sonic congestion in the small, bright-sounding hall in which he was playing.

Klein’s violin tone – focused, relatively low-vibrato, with a touch of the dark, throaty sound of a viola – held its own alongside Staples’ assertive playing, and the violinist matched the pianist’s intensity of expression.

As a threesome with Winter in the lighter, more emotionally upbeat Shostakovich (yes, there is such music), the musicians had fun that proved infectious.

The high-fiber course in this musical meal was Prokofiev’s Sonata, Op. 56, for two, violins, a bright-sounding and at times quite dense exercise in counterpoint, an excellent showcase for the fiddlers’ concentration and ear for balance, but an endurance test for listeners. The contrast of its dark, Russian-soul first movement and slashing, quasi-brutalist second movement strikes the ear, if not exactly stroking it. Klein and Winter reveled in its technical and interpretive challenges.

“Summer at Center Stage” concludes with clarinetist Jared Davis and pianist Daniel Stipe playing works of Brahms, Schumann and Leo Weiner at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 28 in the Gottwald Playhouse of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); www.richmondsymphony.com

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Letter V Classical Radio this week

Aug. 21
noon-4 p.m. EDT
1600-2000 UTC
1700-2100 GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Berlioz: “The Damnation of Faust” – “Rákóczy March”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/David Zinman (Telarc)

Schumann: “Waldszenen”
Mitsuko Uchida, piano (Decca)

Dohnányi: Serenade
in C major, Op. 10
(string orchestration by Dmitry Sitkovetsky)
NES Chamber Orchestra/Dmitry Sitkovetsky (Nonesuch)

Beethoven: Symphony
No. 2 in D major
Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen (Philips)

Stravinsky: “Chant du Rossignol” (“Song of the Nightingale”)
New York Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel (Deutsche Grammophon)

Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in E flat major
Maurice André, trumpet
London Philharmonic/
Jesus Lopez-Cobos
(EMI Classics)

Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1
Martha Argerich, piano;  Guy Touvron, trumpet
Württemburg Chamber Orchestra, Heilbronn/
Jörg Faerber
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Past Masters:
Dag Wirén: Serenade, Op. 11
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner (Decca)
(recorded 1970)

Liszt: “Tasso”
Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig/Kurt Masur
(EMI Classics)

Bartók: “Contrasts”
Charles West, clarinet; Laura Roelofs, violin; Landon Bilyeu, piano (Klavier)

J.C. Bach: Sinfonia concertante in G major
Anna McDonald & Julia Bishop, violins; Sebastian Comberti, cello; Rachel Brown, flute
The Hanover Band/Anthony Halstead (cpo)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Freeman takes Wintergreen post

Erin R. Freeman, director of the Richmond Symphony and Buffalo Philharmonic choruses and director of choral activities at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been selected as the next artistic director of Wintergreen Performing Arts, which presents a summer music festival and other performances at the Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County.

Freeman succeeds Larry Alan Smith, who will step down as of Oct. 1 to return to composing and pursue other musical activities. Smith has been Wintergreen Performing Arts’ artistic and executive director since 2006.

Freeman “brings a level of energy, a breadth of musical experience and a love of performing arts that will surely enrich the audience experience for all of us,” Tom Steele, president of Wintergreen Performing Arts’ board, said in a prepared statement.

In addition to the music festival, Freeman will take charge of the Wintergreen Summer Music Academy instructional program, and help organize other performing-arts events at the resort year-round.

Wintergreen Performing Arts, founded in 1995, has staged its four-week summer music festival since 1997. The 2015 festival runs from July 6 to Aug. 2.

For details, visit www.wintergreenperformingarts.org

Castleton launches jazz program

The Castleton Festival, the summer music festival launched by the late conductor Lorin Maazel at his estate in Rappahannock County in the northwestern Virginia highlands, will add jazz education and programming next summer, with the launching of a new Jazz at Lincoln Center Summer Jazz Academy.

The academy, planning for which began earlier this year when Maazel met with Wynton Marsalis, managing and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, will offer rigorous instruction from members of the New York-based jazz orchestra for 42 high-school-age students (grades 9-12) from around the world.

“It has long been our vision for Castleton to evolve for the shared joy and benefit of young performers and Virginia’s arts community, so it is a special honor to share the Castleton spirit with young people focused on jazz through the work of Wynton Marsalis, an artist whom my husband regarded with such an admiration and affection,” Dietlinde Turban Maazel, the conductor’s widow and successor as artistic director of the Castleton Festival, said a prepared statement. “When we heard [Marsalis] was looking for a location for his summer program, we knew it had to be at Castleton.”

The jazz academy will extend by two weeks the 2015 season of the Castleton Festival. Its opera, orchestral and chamber-music performances will run from June 27 to July 19; jazz concerts will be presented through Aug. 2.

Programming for the 2015 season will be announced early next year.

For more information about the festival, visit its website: www.castletonfestival.org

Tentative labor deal at Met

The Metropolitan Opera has reached a tentative deal with the unions representing its orchestral musicians, choristers and stage managers, averting a threatened lockout by management that would have endangered the coming season.

The New York Times’ Michael Cooper reports: