Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Symphony adds casual concerts

The Richmond Symphony has added two casual concerts at Richmond CenterStage’s Gottwald Playhouse to its 2012-13 schedule.

The new “rush-hour” concerts, led and hosted by Steven Smith, the orchestra’s music director, will be one-hour Thursday evening previews of Metro Collection programs in October and February. The full programs are staged on Sunday afternoons at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland.

The first rush-hour concert, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Oct. 4, will feature music by Kodály, Britten and Haydn, to be performed in full at 3 p.m. Oct. 7 at Randolph-Macon. The second, focusing on Bach’s “Brandenburg” concertos and modern echoes of those works, will be at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21; the full program will be at 3 p.m. Feb. 24 in Ashland.

Tickets for the rush-hour concerts are $20 for adults, $10 for children.

For more information, visit the Richmond Symphony’s website, www.richmondsymphony.com

Lyric Opera delays season opener

Lyric Opera Virginia, the company launched last year by Peter Mark after his dismissal from Virginia Opera, has put off the opening production of its second season, a “grand opera” staging of Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West,” apparently because of financial constraints.

The Puccini, which was to have been presented next month, has been rescheduled for September 2013. LOV’s two other 2012-13 productions, the Broadway musical “Camelot” in January and a “jewel-box” (truncated) version of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” in April, are still scheduled for performances in Virginia Beach, Richmond and Newport News.

Interviewed by Teresa Annas of The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk), Joseph Walsh, LOV’s general director, was not specific about the company’s financial condition, but observed that “[i]t’s not easy to start a new arts organization in this economy” . . .


Monday, August 20, 2012

Review: Richmond Chamber Players

Aug. 19, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

The Hungarian Ernő Dohnányi is one of those composers who fell through the cracks. A romantic whose life and career coincided with the rise of modernism, Dohnányi is typically cast as the
backward-looking contemporary of Bela Bartók and Zoltan Kodály; while they blazed new harmonic and stylistic trails and established a Hungarian musical identity, Dohnányi recycled the Germanic idioms of Brahms and Wagner (and was known for most of his life by the German version of his name, Ernst von Dohnányi).

The Richmond Chamber Players put Dohnányi’s reputation to the test by reviving one of his most substantial works, the Sextet (1935) for piano, strings and winds. Sure enough, the piece echoes earlier times – who would guess that it’s contemporaneous with Berg’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony? – and speaks in a decidedly Teutonic accent when, as in its first movement, it aspires to “serious” expression and form. A less dated Dohnányi emerges in the piece’s later and lighter movements, especially the percolating finale, which evoke the phrasing and rhythms of folk and popular music.

In this performance, pianist John Walter, violinist Susy Yim, violist Stephen Schmidt, cellist Neal Cary, clarinetist David Niethamer and French horn player James Ferree nicely conveyed the Brahmsian weight of the first movement and the Wagnerian stream-of-melodic-consciousness of the intermezzo. Ferree, solo and in combination with Niethamer and Walter, tonally “bronzed” these sections. Walter and the string players were the animators and colorists of the brief allegro con sentimento third movement and finale. It was a persuasive reading of a not entirely persuasive work.

Late-late-romantics who wrote memorable tunes – Rachmaninoff, Puccini, Sibelius, Richard Strauss, Erich Korngold – thrived. Those less gifted in spinning melody, like Dohnányi, have sunk into obscurity.

This third program of the Chamber Players’ Interlude 2012 concerts opened with two sharply contrasting sets of miniatures: Schumann’s “Three Romances,” Op. 94, in the version for oboe and piano, and Karel Husa’s “Évocations de Slovaquie” for clarinet, viola and piano.

Oboist Gustav Highstein, with discreet but expressive and spontaneous-sounding support from pianist Walter, played up the yearning qualities of the Schumann romances in his phrasing, and their bittersweet character in his lyrical but focused tone.

Clarinetist Niethamer was the leading voice in the Husa set, from the lengthy soliloquy launching “The Mountains” to the almost squealing frenzy of the concluding dance. Violist Schmidt got in some enticingly colorful and crunchy licks in the Husa.

The Richmond Chamber Players’ Interlude 2012 series concludes with a program of Mozart, Copland, Rick Sowash and William Grant Still at 3 p.m. Aug. 26 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. Tickets: $18. Details: (804) 272-7514.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Review: Richmond Chamber Players

Aug. 5, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

The Richmond Chamber Players opened their 2012 Interlude series with a program of rarely performed works from the early 20th century. Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Erwin Schulhoff and Charles M. Loeffler made for an enticing mix of styles and instrumental configurations – but not, apparently, enough enticement to attract a large audience.

Tenor Tracey Welborn, who sang Vaughan Williams’ “Ten Blake Songs” in the Chamber Players’ 2010 series, returned to perform the composer’s earlier, better-known song cycle “On Wenlock Edge.” A 1909 setting of six poems from A.E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad,” a somber collection meditating on the dead of the Boer War – and, from our latter-day perspective, anticipating the much greater carnage of World War I – the set vocally veers between almost whispered nostalgia and near-operatic bursts of passion, pain and yearning.

Welborn’s delivery of the Housman verses was spot-on emotionally, and well-communicated through excellent diction and expressive judgment. His contrast of voices was especially telling in “Is my team ploughing.” The accompanying ensemble – pianist John Walter, violinists Susy Yim and Catherine Cary, violist Stephen Schmidt and cellist Neal Cary – overbalanced Welborn in the early going, but fairly quickly adjusted its projection to complement the singer.

The string players opened the program with “Five Pieces for String Quartet” (1923) by Schulhoff, a Czech-German Jew who was one of the more venturesome young composers of Central Europe in the years between the world wars. After the Nazi takeover of Czechoslovakia, Schulhoff was interned in a concentration camp, where he died in 1942.

His “Five Pieces” is a set of five dance movements evoking the baroque suite but stylistically and expressively couched in the language of moderns such as Stravinsky and Bartók; like much of the art-music of the 1920s, the set is enlivened by the rhythms and accents of jazz and popular dances such as the tango.

It sounds to be challenging fun for string musicians. These musicians met its challenges and appeared to be enjoying themselves – especially Schmidt, whose viola was the rhythmic driver and the source of a lot of Schulhoff’s more interesting voicings and tone colors.

Pianist Walter (artistic director of the ensemble) was joined by violist Schmidt and oboist Gustav Highstein in “Two Rhapsodies” (1901) by Loeffler, an Alsatian violinist (assistant concertmaster of the Boston Symphony for many years) who became the most prominent American composer influenced by French impressionism.

In these two longish tone poems, inspired by “The Pond” and “The Bagpipe” by the French symbolist poet Maurice Rollinar, the impressions are dark, at times almost claustrophobic, thanks in part to the rather spooky subjects and atmospherics of the poems (read by Walter before the performance), and in part to scoring in which the piano’s lower registers reinforce the dusky hue of the viola.

The form (or formlessness) of the rhapsody, the language of impressionism and the expressive inclinations of composers active around the turn of the 20th century, are an invitation to garrulous, meandering writing. Loeffler’s rhapsodies overwork their materials and moods, and overstay their welcome.

Walter, Schmidt and Highstein played the pieces with concentration and pointed expressiveness. The bagpipe effects produced by the oboe and viola were tangy ear candy.

The Richmond Chamber Players Interlude 2012 series continues, with works by Beethoven, Dvořák and Janáček, at 3 p.m. Aug. 12 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. Tickets: $18. Details: (804) 272-7514.