Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: Wilson & Schmidt

James Wilson, cello
Carsten Schmidt, harpsichord
Feb. 22, First Unitarian Universalist Church, Richmond

James Wilson, the cellist and artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia, is one of those musicians who thinks aloud as he performs. His little gray cells got quite a workout in performances of three rarely heard works for solo cello: Benjamin Britten’s Second Suite, Op. 80; William Walton’s Passacaglia and Julius Klengel’s “Caprice in the Form of a Chaconne, Based on a Theme by Robert Schumann.”

All three are showcases of cello technique. The Britten and Walton were written for Mstislav Rostropovich, and play to the great Russian cellist’s strengths, not least his concentration and stamina. The Klengel is of late romantic vintage (1905), a rhetorically florid and portentous piece by the longtime principal cellist of the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig and a noted teacher (of Emmanuel Feuermann and Gregor Piatigorsky, among others).

Wilson, playing in a candle-lit church sanctuary, drew listeners deep into these pieces with performances of weight, intensity and spontaneity. His reading of the Klengel was perhaps too serious; it neither sounded nor felt capricious. His treatments of the British works, especially the closing chaconne of Britten’s epic suite, were spot-on.

The program’s theme was the chaconne, a racy dance form that curiously became the vehicle for some of the most profound and expressive musical utterances of the baroque period (Bach’s Chaconne in D minor is the best-known example) and subsequently of late romantics and moderns.

Harpsichordist Carsten Schmidt supplemented Wilson’s solo efforts with a sampling of baroque keyboard works, most from composers of the generation before Bach  Louis Couperin, Georg Böhm, Johann Adam Reincken, Johann Pachelbel, Johann Jakob Froberger  and accompanied Wilson’s baroque cello in Marin Marais’ Suite in A minor from Book 3 of “Pieces de Viole,” originally scored for viola da gamba.