Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: Richmond Festival of Music

April 21, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond

Transition night at the Richmond Festival of Music, from the baroque style that was the exclusive focus of the first concert to the early classical or rococo, the tuneful, jovial antecedent to the classical style of the mature Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, which will occupy the festival’s performers in the last two programs.

The transitional selections on this program were the Flute Sonata in E minor of Prussian King Frederick the Great, the most famous of Europe’s music-making royals, and one of Haydn’s earliest string quartets (which he called a Divertimento), the E flat major, Op. 9, No. 2. About a generation (1740-70) separates the two, and the shift in style between them – from decorous elaborations on dance tunes and airs to extended sonata form, with its tension and surprise – was about as radical as the shift from romanticism to modernism in the decades before and after 1900.

Colin St. Martin, playing a wooden transverse flute, was featured with harpsichordist Carsten Schmidt in Frederick’s sonata, a lightweight piece that nonetheless calls for considerable technique in its fast movements. The performers nicely captured the energetic flourishes, à la Vivaldi, in the sonata’s central vivace movement.

Violinists Florian Deuter and Mónica Waisman, violist Daniel Elyar and cellist James Wilson feasted on the dynamism and unpredictability of the Haydn. The sound of their period-style, gut-strung instruments was especially gratifying in the adagio, in which straight tone at very low volume created an almost otherworldly weave of fine strands of tone.

The program opened with three examples of high-baroque style: Telemann’s "Concerto à Quatre" in A major for strings and continuo, Jean-Marie Leclair’s Sonata in G minor for two violins and François Couperin’s "Quatrième Concert Royale" for flute, violin, cello and harpsichord.

As in the festival’s opening concert, Deuter’s virtuosic and intricately inflected violin playing made the most striking impression. St. Martin’s flute complemented the violin in the prélude and sarabande of the Couperin, and the flute’s softer tone provided contrast with the fiddle as they traded leading roles in other sections of the piece.

The string ensemble’s chugging quality in the speedy finale of the Telemann – hard if not impossible to replicate on modern fiddles – testified to the value of hearing 18th-century music on instruments and in the style of its time.

Deuter and Waisman produced a fine weave of tone in the Leclair, but couldn’t compensate for the repetitiousness of the piece.

The Escher String Quartet joins Wilson, Schmidt and flutist Mary Boodell in the two final concerts of the Richmond Festival of Music, 7:30 p.m. April 23-24 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. Tickets: $25. Details: (804) 519-2098; www.cmscva.org