Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review: Summer at CenterStage

Charles West, clarinet
Yin Zheng & Xi Zhang, piano
Aug. 7, Richmond CenterStage

Clarinetist Charles West and pianist Yin Zheng are colleagues in the Virginia Commonwealth University music department and regular collaborators in chamber performances. Their performance of Brahms’ Sonata in F minor, Op. 120, in the latest Summer at CenterStage recital reflected their familiarity with each other’s musicianship.

Unfortunately, the reading was brisk, almost to the point of sounding brusque. Stylishness and efficiency too often trumped depth of expression. Balances also proved uneven, with one or the other instrument suddenly surging into the foreground, then receding.

The acoustics of Richmond CenterStage’s Gottwald Playhouse may have been a factor. Wind instruments have a tendency to glare in the space; big chords and heavy accents on the piano similarly sound oversized.

Zheng’s performance of Brahms’ Op. 118 set of six piano pieces had some comparable sonic issues, especially at high volume and intensity – as in, for example, the opening of the Ballade in G minor. Her playing in the great Intermezzo in A major and the Romance in F major, pieces of less extroverted expression, made a better impression.

Some of her phrasing and handling of dynamics came close to being too mannered, but never quite crossed the line. Her subtle colorations in the concluding Intermezzo in E flat minor made one wonder how she would treat impressionistic scores – Ravel, say, or the Études-tableaux of Rachmaninoff.

The Chinese pianist Xi Zhang joined Zheng in three of the better-known Slavonic dances of Dvořák, Op. 46, Nos. 2 and 8 and Op. 72, No. 2, in the original piano four-hands versions. Their performances were bright, energetic and colorful, although generally primary colored.

Summer at CenterStage’s Aug. 14 program, by violinist Jocelyn Vorenberg and pianist David Fisk, is sold out, although some seats may become available. That, and programs on Aug. 21 and 28, begin at 6:30 p.m. in Gottwald Playhouse of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);