Monday, March 12, 2007

Review: Richmond Festival (2)

Richmond Festival of Music
March 11, Second Presbyterian Church

How much constrast in musical style and expression can be packed into a two-hour recital? Quite a lot, James Wilson and four colleagues demonstrated in the second program of the Richmond Festival of Music.

Violinist Carmit Zori, violist Mark Holloway and cellist Wilson opened with a pleasant surprise: the String Trio in D by Sergei Taneyev. A composition pupil of Tchaikovsky and a highly regarded pianist, Taneyev sought "a compromise between Russian melos and Germanic contrapuntal writing," Nicolas Slonimsky writes in Baker’s. His trio echoes Schubert more it does any Russian model; it is tuneful and warm, but carries itself with gravitas. (Germanic counterpoint builds gravitas 12 ways.)

The three string players produced a big, round collective tone and dug into the counterpoint with unerring balance and with ears cocked for expressive opportunities. Zori, especially, was ready to the pounce on such opportunities, and found a perfect vehicle in the adagio, the most passionately "Russian" music in the piece.

Wendy Chen and Carsten Schmidt played four of six pieces from Rachmaninoff’s "Morceaux," Op. 11, for piano four-hands. There is more perfumed impressionism than high passion or big rhetoric in this music – at least until Rachmaninoff takes on the familiar Russian anthem "Slava" ("Glory"). Schmidt, the bass of the pair, reined in the heavy chords and maintained stready tempos; Chen coaxed an array of colors and sonorities from the baby grand.

Wilson opened the second half with Bright Sheng’s "Seven Tunes Heard in China," which the Chinese-American composer wrote for cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Sheng, in the manner of Bartók, collects folk and popular tunes and adapts and enlarges upon them in his compositions. This set calls upon the cellist to impersonate Chinese instruments, such as the two-stringed er hu and the ch’in, the Chinese zither, producing many slides, sound effects and percussive effects.

This keeps the cellist very busy, and Wilson seemed to thrive on the activity, especially on the varied plucking of "The Drunken Fisherman" and the locomotive-in-party-frock sound effects of "Diu Diu Dong."

The program closed on the more familiar turf of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K. 478, played by Chen, Zori, Holloway and Wilson in what could be called New York Standard style – brisk and assertive, with an emphasis on tonal brilliance, and without much reference to "historically informed" performance practices.

The Richmond Festival of Music continues with concerts at 8 p.m. March 15 in the chapel of Second Presbyterian Church, 5 N. Fifth St., and 5 p.m. March 18 at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, 2000 E. Cary St. Tickets: $22. Information: (804) 519-2098 or

A free Ear Project informance on Gideon Klein’s String Trio will be presented at 11 a.m. March 17 at the Richmond Public Library, First and Franklin streets.