Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: 'Summer at CenterStage'

Barbara Gaden, cello
Russell Wilson, piano
July 17, Richmond CenterStage

In a program dedicated to the memories of Saul Kay, a Richmond Symphony violinist who died in 2004, and his wife, Grace Kay, who died in May, cellist Barbara Gaden and pianist Russell Wilson began with reminiscences, mainly of Saul Kay and his critical yet supportive way with fellow musicians.

I won’t attempt to channel him in this review – even Grace wouldn’t try that; but I couldn’t help wondering whether Gaden and Wilson, both longtime symphony colleagues, didn’t sense him listening over their shoulders, especially in their performance of the Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38, of Brahms, a composer Saul Kay loved above most all others.

The greater degree of expression and sound projection, especially from the cellist, was marked in the Brahms, in comparison with a much less forceful performance of Beethoven’s “Seven Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ [‘In men who know the feeling of love’]” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”

The compositions themselves account for much of the difference: Beethoven’s variations relegate the cello to a rather subsidiary role relative to that of a not especially assertive keyboard, while they are full-throated and nearly equal partners in the Brahms sonata. Gaden, moreover, sounded more inclined to make her instrument really sing in the Brahms.

Between the two cello-piano works, Wilson played Schumann’s Fantasy in C major, Op. 17, a sprawling, garrulous homage to Beethoven whose exclamatory expressions of passion naturally became the pianist’s interpretive focus.

“Summer at CenterStage” continues with violinist Ellen Cockerham and pianist Maria Yefimova playing Brahms’ Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 78, and Grieg’s Violin Sonata in G minor, Op. 45, at 6:30 p.m. July 24 in the Gottwald Playhouse of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);