Friday, March 16, 2007

Review: Richmond Festival (3)

Richmond Festival of Music
March 15, Second Presbyterian Church

A string-quintet arrangement of Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata was the wild card of “Vienna,” the Richmond Festival of Music’s third program. As wild cards will do, it trumped everything else in play.

The arrangement, author unknown, was published in 1832 by Simrock. Most such scores were intended for amateurs to play at home. This one requires about as much virtuosity as the original work for piano and violin, and the arranger apportions technical demands pretty evenly among the five players; there’s a great deal of give and take, ascending to real high-wire stuff at high speed and at high intensity. The piece almost certainly was meant for professionals and/or advanced students.

Violinists Adela Peña and Frank Huang, violist Mark Holloway and cellists Michelle Djokic and James Wilson made energetic, and finely nuanced, work of it, with special attention to making their voices complementary in the arrangement’s many exchanges and mid-phrase pass-offs.

The violins, especially the first, retain most of the brilliant bits from Beethoven’s original, which Peña and Huang clearly relished – as compensation, maybe, for all the arranger takes away from the violin and gives to viola or cello. Djokic was a strong presence in the many ornamental touches and key rhythmic role given to the first cello (which I take as hints that the mystery arranger was a cellist).

The Beethoven was preceded by the least often heard of Mozart’s flute quartets, the A major, K. 298, played with good humor and glossy polish by flutist Mary Boodell, Peña, Holloway and Djokic.

Wilson, clarinetist Laura DeLuca and pianist Carsten Schmidt played Brahms’ Clarinet Trio, Op. 114, with less dark moodiness than one normally hears in performances of this work. Wilson’s cello was the most overtly impassioned of the three instruments; DeLuca voiced her clarinet more straightforwardly, emphasizing its low-register sonority.

The program closed with the “Emperor” Waltz of Johann Strauss II in another arrangement – that of a not anonymous but not very intrusive Arnold Schoenberg. In this version for flute, clarinet, string quartet and piano, the first violin and piano are the essential melodic and rhythmic drivers, respectively; Peña and Schmidt led a fluent, cheerful account.

I’m reliably informed that the piano that has been used in these concerts is not a baby grand, as I said in previous reviews, but a somewhat larger Bösendorfer instrument, still several feet shy of concert-grand size. So, not a baby but not fully grown – an adolescent grand? In any case, Schmidt used it well.

The Richmond Festival of Music stages its final concert at 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.