Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: 'Summer at CenterStage'

Daisuke Yamamoto, violin
Doris Wylee-Becker, piano
July 10, Richmond CenterStage

Throughout July and August, members of the Richmond Symphony, faculty musicians from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond and others will be surveying Brahms’ sonatas for solo strings and winds and related chamber music.

The series got off to a winning start as Daisuke Yamamoto, the symphony’s concertmaster, and UR-based pianist Doris Wylee-Becker played Brahms’ Scherzo in C minor, Op. 4, and a sampling from his Op. 116 set of solo-piano fantasies, as well as works by his close friends Robert and Clara Schumann.

The scherzo was the 20-year-old Brahms’ contribution to a sonata written with Robert Schumann and Albert Dietrich in tribute to violinist Joseph Joachim. They gave the piece the title “Frei aber einsam” (“Free but Lonely”), which Joachim had adopted as his motto. Schumann recycled the two movements he had written into his Violin Sonata No. 3; Joachim released the Brahms scherzo for publication in 1906, nine years after the composer’s death.

Yamamoto played in a manner that surely would have won Joachim’s approval – richly lyrical, with generous but not excessive vibrato and unerring phrasing and treatment of dynamics. Wylee-Becker, playing the role of Clara Schumann (who introduced the “F.A.E.” Sonata with Joachim in an at-home musicale in 1853), brought heft and portent to the piano part, but took care not to overbalance the violin.

The duo maintained a similar balance of voices in Clara Schumann’s Op. 22 set of three romances, managing to convey the sweet lyricism of the pieces without sounding treacly; and gratifyingly turned up the heat in Robert Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105.

Wylee-Becker sounded a bit nervy and angular in her treatments of pairs of capriccios and intermezzos from Brahms’ Op. 116 set.

Surprisingly for a classical recital in mid-July in downtown Richmond, this “Summer at CenterStage” opener played to a full house. The next program is nearly sold out, too; but the symphony and CenterStage are accommodating those who turn up without having already purchased tickets to unclaimed and extra seats.

“Summer at CenterStage” continues with cellist Barbara Gaden and pianist Russell Wilson playing Brahms’ Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38, and works by Beethoven and Schumann at 6:30 p.m. July 17 in the Gottwald Playhouse of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);