Thursday, October 30, 2014

Maazel retrospective

“Lorin Maazel: His Life and Music,” a retrospective on the eminent conductor from the Society for Ethical Culture in New York, will be streamed live on Oct. 31 on the website of the Castleton Festival, the event that Maazel and his wife, Dietlinde Turban Maazel, founded in 2009 at their estate in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

The conductor died in July, in the midst of the 2014 festival.

The online broadcast will begin at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time (1630 UTC/GMT) here:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Review: Chamber Music Society

Oct. 27, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

In preparation for its 10th anniversary season, the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia polled its patrons on their favorite music. Music from Vienna topped the poll, so the society launched its new season with Viennese and related – sometimes rather distantly related – repertory.

I couldn’t make it to “Neo-Vienna,” an Oct. 25 program at the Richmond Public Library that sampled contemporary takes on Viennese tradition and style. The subsequent offering, “Austro-Hungarian Waltz,” proved to be a wide-ranging, at times thrilling, survey of Viennese classicism, romanticism and modernism, with a couple of echoes from contemporary composers.

The anchor of the program was Haydn’s Quartet in C major, Op. 76, No. 3, known as the “Emperor” from theme of its adagio, which became known in Haydn’s time as the “Emperor’s Hymn” and several generations later as “Deutschland über alles.” Violinists Guillaume Pirard and Nurit Pacht, violist Melissa Reardon and cellist James Wilson (artistic director of the society) played the quartet with extraordinary energy and dynamism. The music’s elegance remained intact, but in an interpretive context far different from that of “standard” 18th-century classical performance.

The difference was most pronounced in the opening allegro and concluding presto. These outer movements were played with headlong propulsiveness and slashing accents, vividly anticpating the energy and intensity levels of Beethoven. Haydn’s menuetto was treated to an earthy reading, underlining its roots in the Ländler, the Central European hill-country folk dance that was the ancestor of the minuet and waltz. Only the “Emperor” theme and variations fell short in this performance, played a bit too briskly and consequently sounding too glib.

The string players made a comparably striong impression in the allegro agitato movement of Brahms’ Quartet in B flat major, Op. 67, part of “Evolution of the Waltz,” a medley of dance works by Viennese composers works, from Mozart to Schoenberg. Schmidt gave a well-paced and detailed performance of Schoenberg’s “Six Short Pieces,” Op. 19, concluding the waltz medley. Despite his best efforts, it sounded quite anti-climactic after the surging Brahms quartet performance.

The four fiddlers, joined by pianist Carsten Schmidt and organist Stephen Henley, polished a neglected gem in Schoenberg’s arrangement of “Roses from the South,” one of the most sumptuous of the waltzes of Johann Strauss II.

Flutist Mary Boodell, Schmidt and the string foursome, led by Pirard, delved into another dance style popular in old Vienna, the gypsy dance, in a technically dazzling, rhetorically florid reading of Franz Doppler’s “Pastoral Fantasy in the Hungarian Style.”

The contemporary pieces were “Moz-art” (1978) by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, a broadly humorous, at times almost slapstick, send-up of Viennese classical style and compositional technique, played for maximum humor and display of technique by violinists Pacht and Pirard (the former also whistling); and “mozart-adagio” (1992) by Arvo Pärt, a piano-trio fantasy on the the adagio from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K. 280, that doesn’t so much gild Mozart’s lily as subject it to fun-house mirror distortions. Pirard, Wilson and Schmidt realized Pärt’s often rarified effects nicely and clearly echoed Mozart whenever they could.

Letter V Classical Radio this week

Spook-prep for the day before Halloween, including the rarely heard, extra hair-raising choral version of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain.” 

Oct. 30
noon-2 p.m. EDT
1600-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Zelenka: Trio Sonata No. 4 in G minor
Heinz Holliger & Maurice Bourgue, oboes; Klaus Thunemann, bassoon; Klaus Stoll, double-bass; Christiane Jaccottet, harpsichord (ECM)

Mussorgsky: “St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain”
Anatoli Kotcherga, bass-baritone
Berlin Radio Choir; South Tyrol Children’s Choir
Berlin Philharmonic/
Claudio Abbado
(Sony Classical)

Schubert: “Erlkönig”
(orchestration by Max Reger)
Thomas Quasthoff, baritone
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Claudio Abbado (Deutsche Grammophon)

Liszt: “Totentanz”
Jorge Bolet, piano
London Symphony Orchestra/Iván Fischer (Deutsche Grammophon)

J.S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
George Ritchie, organ (Raven)

Past Masters:
Tartini: Sonata in G minor (“The Devil’s Trill”)
David Oistrakh, violin; Vladimir Yampolsky, piano (EMI Classics)
(recorded 1956)

Dukas: “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Jesús López-Cobos (Telarc)

Boccherini: Sinfonia in D minor, Op. 12, No. 4 (“La casa del diavolo”)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini (Naïve)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Christopher Falzone (1985-2014)

Christopher Falzone, the Richmond-bred piano prodigy who became an internationally celebrated virtuoso, died on Oct. 21 in Geneva, Switzerland. He was 29.

Falzone, who grew up in the suburbs of Richmond, won the Young Musicians Foundation Competition when he was 8 years old, and the following year performed in a televised concert as the soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Disney Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra. He went on to win numerous honors and perform internationally.

Joanne Kong, the Richmond pianist who taught Falzone from the age of 4 until his late teen years, said, “He was one of the most remarkably gifted young pianists with whom I’ve worked. What was most striking to me was his ability to communicate with an audience, and his ability to get to the essence of the music. That’s something you can’t teach.”

After graduating from Monacan High School in Chesterfield County, Falzone enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his principal teachers were Leon Fleisher and Claude Frank. He graduated from Curtis in 2008. Fleisher said of Falzone, “[T]here is scarcely anything beyond his means and his musical awarenesses.”

In 2004, he was the recipient of a $15,000 Gilmore Young Artist Award. In 2009, he was a gold medalist in the fourth International Piano Competition in Memory of Emil Gilels at the Odessa National A. V. Nezhdanova Academy of Music in Ukraine and winner of the Martha Argerich Les Virtuoses du Future competition in Switzerland. In 2010, he won the Grand Prix International Piano Competition: XX-XXI Century in Orléans, France.

Falzone performed as a recitalist, chamber musician and soloist with many orchestras in the United States and Europe.

He appeared several times as a soloist with the Richmond Symphony, most recently in 2005, playing Mozart’s “Coronation” Concerto (No. 26).

He also was a composer and arranger, notably of solo-piano versions of piano concertos and chamber works.

Here is a video, posted in 2013, of Christopher Falzone performing his solo transcription of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3:

And a 2012 posting of his remarkable concert performance of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata (in F minor, Op. 57):

*  *  *

POSTSCRIPT (Oct. 28): There is a dismaying array of conflicting views circulating online regarding the circumstances leading to the death of Christopher Falzone. None strike me as pertinent, except to those who were close to him; and the discussion is taking a voyeuristic turn that does no service to his artistic legacy. He was a brilliant pianist with extraordinary musical sensibility. He died too soon. Enough said.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Music Alive residency in Richmond

The Richmond Symphony is one of 12 recipients in the latest round of $7,500 grants from the Music Alive program of the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA, which finances one-week residencies by composers with small- and mid-market U.S. orchestras. The Richmond grant is for a residency by composer Laura Schwendinger in the 2015-16 season.

Schwendinger, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, was the first composer to win the American Academy in Berlin Prize. Her works have been performed by the American Composers Orchestra, soprano Dawn Upshaw, violinist Janine Jansen, cellist Matt Haimovitz, the JACK Quartet and other leading artists.

The composer’s Richmond residency will feature a performance of her “Waking Dream” (2009) for flute and chamber orchestra.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Letter V Classical Radio this week

Oct. 23
noon-2 p.m. EDT
1600-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Haydn: Symphony No. 93 in D major
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble/Marc Minkowski

Ligeti: Quartet No. 1 (“Métamorphoses nocturnes”)
Hagen Quartet
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Berlioz: “Lélio” – “Fantasia on Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ ”
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Michael Tilson Thomas
(RCA Victor)

Past Masters:
Mahler: Symphony No. 1
in D major
Czech Philharmonic/
Karel Ančerl
(recorded 1964)

Dvořák: “Silent Woods”
Alisa Weilerstein, cello;
Anna Polonsky, piano

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: Richmond Symphony

with soloists, Richmond Symphony Chorus
Steven Smith conducting
Oct. 18, Richmond CenterStage

Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony (No. 2) may be the most challenging work that Steven Smith has undertaken in his four years (and counting) as music director of the Richmond Symphony.

The piece is long, lasting about an hour and 20 minutes. Its big outer movements, veering between tempestuous and softly lyrical, at times otherworldly, passages, can seem episodic or internally disjointed. It is scored for a very large orchestra, with double or triple the standard complements of winds, brass and percussion, including several offstage ensembles, with chorus, organ and two vocal soloists in its conclusion.

So, the Mahler Second is an epic job of traffic control for the conductor. All the more so with an orchestra, like Richmond’s, that must bring in a large number of extra players to muster a band of this size, meaning that the conductor must meld an ensemble from musicians not used to playing together.

Moreover, this is not a piece that speaks fluently if you just play and sing the notes. It is more spiritually charged than many overtly religious works; and it requires deep immersion in Austro-German romantic style, especially the long arcs of phrasing and expression that are uniquely characteristic of this style.

In the first of two performances of the “Resurrection,” Smith showed a firm grasp of most of the demands this music makes. He paced the symphony unerringly, and with great sensitivity to its extraordinary dynamic range, from earth-shatteringly loud to a level of quiet that is almost sensed more than heard. He maintained fine balance between string sections not much larger than the orchestra’s usual complement and oversized wind and percussion sections. He obtained idiomatically Viennese waltz tempos in the second and third movements.

The only shortcoming was a slackening of tension in quiet sections, especially in the first movement, “Totenfeier,” a sprawling funeral march that, along the way, poses a query in tone: “Wherefore hast thou lived? Wherefore hast thou suffered? Is it all some great, fearful joke?” The questions are posed in lyrical music, but need to retain some audible edge.

The orchestra performed splendidly, both en masse and in solos and ensembles. An 11-member French horn section paced the band in expressive sonority. The percussion section, with two sets of timpani and plentifully employed bass drum and cymbals, was suitably emphatic but never coarsely loud. Lower strings sounded with impact and plenty of bite. English horn player Shawn Welk, oboist Gustav Highstein, flutist Mary Boodell, trombonist John Sipher and violinist Daisuke Yamamoto contributed characterful solos.

Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein proved to be an ideal Mahler singer in “Urlicht,” the solo song preceding the symphony’s “Resurrection” finale, and blended beautifully with a richly sonorous soprano, Michelle Areyzaga, in that finale.

The Richmond Symphony Chorus, prepared by Erin R. Freeman, was in generally fine fettle but sounded distant, as it usually does when pushed to the back of the Carpenter Theatre stage and fronted by a large orchestra. The male choristers’ exclamatory passages, more than faintly echoing Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” projected better than massed choral sections.

A performance of great concentration and gripping tonal drama was rewarded with a lengthy ovation.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Carpenter Theatre of Richmond CenterStage, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$78. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);