Thursday, August 13, 2015

Review: Summer at CenterStage

Jared Davis, clarinet
Daniel Stipe, piano
Aug. 13, Richmond CenterStage

Jared Davis, the longtime assistant principal clarinetist of the Richmond Symphony who moved up to the first chair last season after Ralph Skiano decamped for the Detroit Symphony, is on a performing roll this week. On the heels of his performance in Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio, Op. 11, with the Richmond Chamber Players last weekend, he played a demanding set of French chamber pieces in the latest Summer at CenterStage concert.

Davis, partnered by pianist Daniel Stipe, delivered stylish and almost note-perfect readings of Debussy’s “Première rhapsodie,” Poulenc’s Clarinet Sonata, Milhaud’s Duo concertante for clarinet and piano and Louis Cahuzac’s “Cantilène.” By the clock, that may be a mini-concert; from the business end of a clarinet, it’s thoroughly maxi.

The Poulenc sonata, written a year before the composer’s death in 1963, requires both excellent technique and substantial musical sensibility. He was arguably the most successful 20th-century French opera composer, and much of his instrumental music feels as if characters, scenery and lighting wouldn’t be out of place.

Davis and Stipe played the sonata with the appropriate sparkling energy, but also captured the atmospherics and narrative suggestiveness of the sonata, especially in its central romanza. The energetic outer movements of the Poulenc fairly explicitly echo Debussy’s 1910-vintage rhapsody. Davis made those resonations clear, too.

He ably negotiated the quick-time exclamations and filagree packed into the brief showpiece of Cahuzac, and with Stipe gave a nice Parisian-jazzy undertone to the Milhaud.

Stipe, who has built quite a reputation as an organist during his time in Richmond, showed himself to just as impressive a pianist in three pieces from Book 2 of Debussy’s “Images.” His tonal control, color sensibility and balancing of voices were remarkable in ”Cloches à travers les feuilles” (“Bells through the Leaves”) and “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut” (“And the Moon Sets over the Temple That Was”), and his speedy, glittering treatment of “Poissons d’or” (“Goldfish”) was thrilling.

Summer at CenterStage continues with violinist Susanna Klein and pianist Yin Zheng performing at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 20 in the Gottwald Playhouse of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);