Saturday, September 29, 2007

Review: Alexander Paley Music Festival

Sept. 28, Virginia Commonwealth University

Alexander Paley, the Russian-American pianist who quixotically launched a music festival in a Richmond bookstore 10 years ago, is celebrating the anniversary with a lot of onstage company – so many collaborators, in fact, that in four concerts he has not programmed a single solo-piano work for himself.

On opening night, Paley joined his wife, Pei-wen Chen, in Mozart’s Sonata in F major, K. 497, for piano four-hands, and played the composer’s Trio in C major, K. 548, with the Estonian violinist Andres Mustonen and Audubon Quartet cellist Clyde Thomas Shaw. Paley left the rest of a substantial program to others.

The evening’s instrumental stars were Mustonen, whose immersion in early music strongly inflected his treatment of Mozart, and Charles West, the VCU-based clarinetist who has performed in each year of Paley’s festival.

This time, West was on familiar turf musically, joining Mustonen, former Richmond Symphony violinist Laura Leigh Roelofs (now at Wayne State University in Michigan) and Shaw in Mozart’s Quintet in A major, K. 581. West also was playing on his home court, Vlahcevic Concert Hall at VCU’s Singleton Arts Center. His knowledge of the hall’s acoustics was evident in a performance of clarity and smooth sonority, and his exchanges with Mustonen greatly enlivened the reading.

The second half of the program was devoted to the first of two chamber operas to be semi-staged in the festival, Gian-Carlo Menotti’s "The Telephone." Chen, who is active as a rehearsal pianist and accompanist with several opera troupes in New York, showed a sure grasp of Menotti’s sparkling and evocative piano line, and nicely framed the voices of soprano Victoria Cannizzo and baritone Eric Keller.

Cannizzo and Keller were well-cast as the young lovers Lucy and Ben, whose budding courtship must cope with a deadline (Ben has a train to catch) and constant interruptions by a ringing phone. Their youthful voices and animated stage personas proved just right for this light comedy.

The Alexander Paley Music Festival continues with performances at 12:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 and 2 p.m. Sept. 30 at VCU’s Singleton Center, Park Avenue at Harrison Street, in Richmond. Tickets: $20. Information: (804) 647-3398 or