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);