Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ivan Moravec (1930-2015)

Ivan Moravec, the eminent Czech pianist fondly remembered in Richmond for his performances in 1994 and 2001 at Virginia Commonwealth University, has died at the age of 84. He had been in retirement from concert activities for some years.

A onetime protégé of Arturo Benedetti Michaelangelo, Moravec was as well-known for his performances of Chopin and French repertory as he was for Czech music. After his US debut in the 1960s and first recordings in the ’70s, Moravec became known on this side of the Atlantic as “the poet of the piano.”

An obituary in the Prague Post:


Friday, July 24, 2015

Review: Summer at CenterStage

Stephen Schmidt, viola
John Walter, piano
July 23, Richmond CenterStage

Five years ago, violist Stephen Schmidt and pianist John Walter played the Viola Sonata (1919) of the English composer Rebecca Clarke in a Richmond Chamber Players program. The two musicians reprised the piece, even more successfully, in the most recent Summer at CenterStage recital.

In one of several enthusiastic and informative spoken introductions in this program, Schmidt said the Clarke is his favorite viola sonata. That soon became audible in an expressively engaged performance, in the animated first and second movements and the lyrical finale. The violist characterized Clarke’s style as impressionistic – which indeed it is, notably in the central vivace, whose rhythmic and gestural language strongly resembles Claude Debussy’s; but Clarke also echoed the English pastoral school in the closing adagio.

Schmidt sounded less fluent in Franz Liszt’s transcription of “Harold in the Mountains,” the first movement of Berlioz’s “Harold in Italy.” The original work is a symphony with solo viola as its frequent but not constant protagonist, and Liszt’s reduction of the orchestration to a virtuoso-piano showcase tends to overshadow if not diminish the viola’s role further. Here, the violist strove to maintain parity with the piano, played with extroverted brilliance by Walter, and taxed both tone and technique in the process.

Between the two viola pieces, Walter played Debussy’s “Estampes,” a set of three sonic pictures evoking Indonesian pagodas, evening in the Spanish city of Granada and the less place-specific “Gardens in the Rain.” The pianist played with great tonal clarity, especially in the shimmering effects that this composer so favors, as well as effective contrasts of dynamics and an unerring sense of the significance of the spaces between notes in Debussy’s piano music.

Summer at CenterStage continues with cellist Jason McComb and pianist Joanne Kong in a program of Debussy, Fauré, Dutilleux and Franck at 6:30 p.m. July 30 in the Gottwald Playhouse of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); www.richmondsymphony.com

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Letter V Classical Radio this week

July 23
11 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Johann Joseph Fux: “Processional Suite”
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/
Gottfried von der Goltz (Carus)

Nico Muhly: Cello Concerto
Zuill Bailey, cello
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/Jun Märkl
(Steinway & Sons)

Past Masters:
Beethoven: Sonata in C major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”)
Walter Gieseking, piano (VAI Audio)
(recorded 1938)

Jón Leifs: “Geysir”
Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Esa-Pekka Salonen (Sony Classical)

Philip Lasser: “The Circle and the Child”
Simone Dinnerstein, piano
MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra/
Kristjan Järvi
(Sony Classical)

Schubert: Sonata in A minor, D. 821 (“Arpeggione”)
John Williams, guitar
Australian Chamber Orchestra (Sony Classical)

Bartók: “Dance Suite”
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Boulez (Deutsche Grammophon)

Dvořák: Quintet in B flat major, Op. 97
Talich Quartet
Tasso Adamopoulous, viola (Calliope)

Past Masters:
Mendelssohn: “The Hebrides” Overture
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
(RCA Victor)
(recorded 1956)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Letter V Classical Radio this week

Mozart and his orbit: His music alongside that of contemporaries and composers of the subsequent generation in whose work Mozart resonates.  

July 16
11 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Josef Mysliviček: Symphony No. 5 in B flat major
L’Orfeo Baroque Orchestra/
Michi Gaigg (cpo)

Haydn: Quartet in D minor, Op. 76, No. 2 (“Fifths”)
Carmina Quartet (Denon)

Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 4 in D major, K. 218
Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/
Neville Marriner (Avie)

Schubert: Fantasie in F minor, D. 940
Katja & Ines Lunkenheimer,
piano four-hands
(Telos Music)

Beethoven: Variations on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”, Op. 66
Matt Haimovitz, cello
Christopher O’Riley, fortepiano (Pentatone)

Mozart: Divertimento in E flat major, K. 289
Octophorus (Accent)

Rossini: “La scala di seta” Overture
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Claudio Abbado (Deutsche Grammophon)

Boccherini: “La Musica notturna della Strade di Madrid”
Le Concert des Nations/
Jordi Savall (AliaVox)

Past Masters:
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503
Leon Fleisher, piano
Cleveland Orchestra/
George Szell
(Sony Classical)
(recorded 1959)

Mendelssohn: String Symphony No. 6 in E flat major
Nieuw Sinfonietta Amsterdam/Lev Markis (BIS)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Newspapering again

I have resumed contributing reviews of classical concerts to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The first one, of the opening program of the Summer at CenterStage series, with James Ferree, principal French horn player of the Richmond Symphony, and pianist Richard Becker of the University of Richmond, is posted here:


I will continue to post on Letter V reviews of Virginia Opera productions and concerts that I do not review for the RTD, as well as the monthly events calendar, news items, commentaries and the weekly programs for Letter V Classical Radio.

When one of my reviews is published by the newspaper, a link to the piece on its website – www.richmond.com – will be posted here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Letter V Classical Radio this week

A summer sampler of new and recent classical recordings, including a splendid new collection of Anglo-Celtic-Appalachian ballads and dances from Apollo’s Fire, Yolanda Kondonassis and Jason Vieaux playing music for harp and guitar, pianist Jonathan Biss playing Beethoven, and violinist Jennifer Koh playing Bartók.

July 9
11 a.m.-2 p.m. EDT
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Peter Warlock: “Capriol” Suite
Royal Philharmonic/Barry Wordsworth
(Royal Philharmonic Masterworks)

“The Cruel Sister”
“The Cause of All My Sorrow”/“The Butterfly”/
“Barney Brallaghan”
“Nottamun Town”
“Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”
“I Wonder As I Wander”/
“The Gravel Walk”/“Over the Isles to America”
Apollo’s Fire (Avie)

Vaughan Williams:
“Ten Blake Songs”
Mark Padmore, tenor
Nicholas Daniel, oboe (Harmonia Mundi)

Beethoven: Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 (“Appassionata”)
Jonathan Biss, piano (JB Recordings)

Bartók: Sonata for solo violin
Jennifer Koh, violin (Cedille)

Vivaldi: “The Four Seasons” – “Summer”
Midori Seiler, violin
Akademie für alte Musik Berlin
(Harmonia Mundi)

Xavier Montsalvatge: Fantasia
Yolanda Kondonassis, harp
Jason Vieaux, guitar (Azica)

Terry Riley: “Etude from the Old Country”
ZOFO (Sono Luminus)

Jean-Féry Rebel: “Les Elements”
Tempesta di Mare (Chaconne)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wintergreen fest marks 20th year

The Wintergreen Summer Music Festival opens its 20th anniversary season this week with a new artistic director, Erin R. Freeman, overseeing more than 200 events ranging from concerts to seminars and workshops. Twenty compositions will be premiered during this year’s festival, which opened on July 6 and runs through Aug. 2 at the Nelson County mountain-top resort community.

Freeman, who also is director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus and director of choral activities at Virginia Commonwealth University, planned the Wintergreen season with a focus not just on the festival’s anniversary but several others as well.

The sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War will be marked on July 29 with the premiere of Daron Hagen’s “Dear Youth,” a work for soprano, flute and piano based on letters written by women during the conflict. Ed Ayers, the noted Civil War historian who recently stepped down from the presidency of the University of Richmond, will speak on American culture and community of the era.

Hagen also has composed a new soundtrack for a July 24 screening of Charlie Chaplin’s classic silent film “The Tramp,” which was first seen 100 years ago. Another centenary of sorts comes with soprano Ariana Zukerman’s performance of Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville, Summer of 1915,” a setting of words by James Agee.

“Tracing connections, chronological or otherwise, is the fun part of putting together programs,” Freeman says. Atmospherics are another factor – an important one in an event in which most major concerts are staged outdoors “where the birds or weather conditions sometimes are louder than the music.”

One such matching of music to its surroundings is planned for July 14: “Ushering in Twilight,” a program of chamber music and song by Schubert, Nielsen and Halvoresen that “winds down instead of up,” as Freeman puts it, with the music presented in a sequence that becomes more quiet and introspective as darkness falls.

The headline offerings at Wintergreen are four pairs of orchestra concerts, featuring such familiar works as Beethoven’s Fifth, Schubert’s “Unfinished” and Mendelssohn’s “Italian” symphonies, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor (with Winston Choi as soloist) and Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D major (played by Zuill Bailey), and midday and evening series of chamber programs, highlighting works by Bach and Schubert alongside classics of Beethoven, Britten and Stravinsky and new and recent music by Michael White, Jack Gallagher, Christopher Theofanidis and Libby Larsen.

The festival’s musicians, drawn from the orchestras of Richmond, Roanoke, Charlottesville, Washington, Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as university music faculties, double as performers and teachers. “Many of them have been at Wintergreen for years,” Freeman says. “It’s easy to fill slots here – a month in the mountains in midsummer is a good gig.”

In conjunction with the festival, Wintergreen runs an academy for students at high-school to post-graduate levels. “There are 68 this year,” Freeman says, “studying not just instruments and voice but conducting, composition and arts administration.” Student chamber performances, presented free, carry Wintergreen’s offerings into surrounding communities, often at venues not commonly used for concerts.

“One of the unusual things about this festival is that it’s not just about people sitting in the audience at concerts,” Freeman observes. “Wintergreen attracts people with a lot of curiosity about music and other art forms, and our seminars and workshops are just as well-attended as our concerts.”

To obtain a season brochure or more information about the Wintergreen Summer Music Festival, call (434) 325-8292 or visit the festival website, www.wintergreenperformingarts.org