Letter V Classical Radio Aug. 21

Wrapping up the show’s summer season highlighting two live performances: the just-released recording of Mason Bates’ “Children of Adam,” introduced last year by the Richmond Symphony and Symphony Chorus, Steven Smith conducting; and a remarkable rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, led by Charles Mackerras, from the 1994 Edinburgh Festival.

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Milhaud: “La création du monde”
Contemporary Chamber Ensemble/Arthur Weisberg

Mason Bates: “Children of Adam”
Richmond Symphony Chorus
Richmond Symphony/Steven Smith
(Reference Recordings)

Ben Johnston: Quartet No. 4 (“Amazing Grace”)
Kepler Quartet
(New World)

Haydn: Symphony No. 60 in C major (“Per la Commedia intitulata Il Distratto”)
Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend

Mendelssohn: Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 35, No. 1
Benjamin Grosvenor, piano

J.S. Bach: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
(orchestration by Ottorino Respighi)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor (“Choral”)
Amanda Roocroft, soprano
Fiona Janes, mezzo-soprano
John Mark Ainsley, tenor
Neal Davies, bass
The New Company
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Charles Mackerras
(Signum Classics)

Domingo accused of sexual harassment

Plácido Domingo, the veteran tenor-turned-baritone, opera company director and conductor, has been accused of sexual harassment by nine female performers. The allegations, dating to the 1980s and ’90s, were aired in an Associated Press report:


The accusations were rebuffed by Domingo as “deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate.” He said in a statement that “all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual.”

Among the eight singers and one dancer telling the AP that Domingo made unwanted advances, one, mezzo-soprano Patricia Wulf, spoke on the record, saying that Domingo propositioned her during a 1998 run of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” at the Washington Opera (now Washington National Opera) when he was the company’s general director.

The Los Angeles Opera, where the 78-year-old Domingo currently serves as artistic director, has opened an investigation of the allegations, and several other arts organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera, have either canceled his appearances or put them on hold pending the outcome of the probe, Michael Cooper and Alex Marshall report in The New York Times:

Review: Richmond Chamber Players

Aug. 11, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

“And now, for something completely different.” The old Monty Python catchphrase came to life as members of the Richmond Chamber Players turned from Florence Price’s reworkings of American folk tunes to Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 80, and then to the ragtime revival of William Bolcom.

The highlight of the concert was the Prokofiev, played by violinist Susy Yim and pianist Daniel Stipe. The sonata, written for the great Russian violinist David Oistrakh (teacher of Yim’s teacher) and introduced in 1946, is one of Prokofiev’s darkest and most starkly expressive works, and one of the most vivid sound artifacts of the psychic trauma inflicted on Russians during the murderous dictatorship of Joseph Stalin and the ravages of the Second World War.

Yim’s devotion to the sonata was audible in a concentrated and highly charged performance that conveyed both the chill of a recurring theme, which Prokofiev likened to “wind passing through a graveyard,” and the lyricism of several sections that recall romantic episodes of the composer’s “Romeo and Juliet” ballet music. The violinist gave full vent to the violence of the sonata’s second movement, marked allegro brusco, which sounds as if the Montagues and Capulets of “Romeo and Juliet” battle anew with high explosives.

Like Beethoven’s sonatas for piano and stringed instruments, Prokofiev’s Op. 80 is apportioned equally for the two instruments. Stipe, playing his third concert in five days, was very much Yim’s match in sound projection and expressive potency.

A string quartet composed Yim, violinist Catherine Cary, violist Stephen Schmidt and cellist Neal Cary opened the program with “Five Folksongs in Counterpoint” by Florence Price, an African-American female composer active in the middle third of the 20th century, whose music was celebrated in her prime years, neglected for decades after her death in 1953, and recently has been enjoying a revival.

Price’s elaborations on familiar tunes – “Calvary,” “My Darling Clementine,” “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes,” “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” – are late-romantic in style and at times veer close to didactic exercises in theme and variation; but she chose good material, treated it affectionately, and gave the four instruments many opportunities for intricate interplay. This performance brought out the most attractive qualities of the settings.

Bolcom, a veteran American composer, was one of the prime movers in the ragtime revival of the 1960s and ’70s, both as a performer of classics by Scott Joplin and other masters of the piano rag around the turn of the 20th century, and as a composer of new rags echoing the old style. Bolcom’s “Graceful Ghost” (1970), probably the most widely performed latter-day piano rag, is recast as the central piece in his “Three Rags for String Quartet (Ghost Rags),” dating from 1989.

The set, nicely balancing whimsical expressiveness and played-for-chuckles spooky touches, was given a brightly animated reading by this string ensemble.

The Richmond Chamber Players’ Interlude series continues with music of Brahms, Allan Blank and Chen Yi at 3 p.m. Aug. 18 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. Tickets: $25 Details: http://www.richmondchamberplayers.org

Letter V Classical Radio Aug. 14

To tame the dog days, a program of chamber music.

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Schubert: Quartet in C minor, D. 703 (“Quartettsatz”)
Miró Quartet
(Longhorn Music)

Amy Beach: Theme and Variations, Op. 80
Eugenia Zukerman, flute
Shanghai Quartet

Borodin: Piano Quintet in C minor, Op. posth.
Alexander Mogilevsky, piano
Andrey Baranov & Géza Hosszu-Legocky, violins
Nora Romanoff, viola
Jing Zhao, cello
(Warner Classics)

Mendelssohn: Octet in E flat major, Op. 20
James Ehnes, Erin Keefe, Andrew Wan & Augustin Hadelich, violins
Cynthia Phelps & Richard O’Neill, violas
Robert deMaine & Edward Arron, cellos

Beethoven: Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69
Pieter Wispelwey, cello
Dejan Lazić, piano
(Channel Classics)

Caroline Shaw: “Blueprint”
Aizuri Quartet
(New Amsterdam)

Past Masters:
Brahms: Piano Trio No. 1 in B major, Op. 8
Arthur Rubinstein, piano
Henryk Szeryng, violin
Pierre Fournier, cello
(RCA Red Seal)
(recorded 1972)

Bartók: “Contrasts”
Chantal Julliet, violin
Michael Collins, clarinet
Martha Argerich, piano
(Warner Classics)

Western music’s greatest hit

Andrea Valentino, writing for the BBC’s culture section, traces the enduring popularity of “La Folía,” a folk dance tune of Portuguese origin. Adapted by Arcangelo Corelli in his Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 5, No. 12, the tune – really, just a chord progression – was taken up by numerous composers over the generations, turning up in such unlikely places as a Swedish political ballad and the “Addams Family” film soundtrack:


Symphony Chorus schedules auditions

The Richmond Symphony Chorus will hold auditions from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 20 and 26 at Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dumbarton Road at Monument Avenue.

The chorus, led by Erin Freeman, rehearses on Tuesday evenings from late August through early May, with additional rehearsals in the weeks priors to performances, at Dominion Energy Center in downtown Richmond. Repertory for the 2019-20 season includes Alexander von Zemlinsky’s “Psalm 23,” Rachmaninoff’s “The Bells,” Handel’s “Messiah,” and Christmas choral works for “Let It Snow!” pops concerts. An all-choral program will be staged as well.

For information and audition requirements and applications, visit http://rschorus.com/auditions

Review: Richmond Chamber Players

Aug. 4, Bon Air Presbyterian Church

Opening their summer Interlude series, back in their longtime venue, the Richmond Chamber Players dusted off a rarely heard piano-quintet version of Darius Milhaud’s “Le création du monde” (“The Creation of the World”), jazzy/bluesy ballet music originally scored for a theater orchestra.

Milhaud produced this chamber suite at the request of his publisher, Stephen Schmidt, the Chamber Players’ artistic director, said in introductory remarks. In the 19th century, reductions of this kind usually were intended to make it possible to play orchestral works in the home, typically by amateurs. By the time “La création du monde”  premiered, in 1923, chamber versions of orchestral pieces, such as Stravinsky’s piano reductions of his ballet scores and the reductions of late-romantic and early modern symphonic works created for Vienna’s Society for Private Musical Performance, were more often meant to be played by professional-grade musicians.

Milhaud’s reduction belongs to the latter category, especially in its demands on the pianist, whose part carries much of the rhythmic and coloristic weight of the orchestral score. The string parts, aside from key solo passages for viola and cello in the final section, are mostly supportive and atmospheric.

John Walter, this ensemble’s pianist, was certainly up to the score’s technical demands, although perhaps not fully attuned to some of its stylistic echoes. (Blues and jazz don’t figure much in his extensive performance résumé.) Walter effectively drove the energy of the piece, ably negotiating its sometimes intricate rhythms and timing its rhythmically strategic silences.

The accompanying string quartet – violinists Stacy Matthews and Susy Yim, violist Schmidt and cellist Neal Cary – sounded rather strained and wiry, perhaps because the players were trying to project alongside the big piano part. Schmidt and Cary projected their cameos to fine effect.

Yim, Schmidt and Neal Cary, joined by violinist Catherine Cary, were in much better form in the program’s opening work, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 6 in G major, Op. 101. This work, written during a summer vacation in 1956, is one of the composer’s sunniest compositions, at times seeming to evoke spa-town salon and dance music. There are dark undertones – the Soviet Union hadn’t been fully de-Stalinized (it never would be) and Shostakovich hadn’t undergone a personality transplant – but the ominous shadows are far more subtle here than in most of this composer’s music.

Shostakovich scored this quartet in Mittel-Europa tradition, with the first violin as a generally predominant voice. Yim reveled in this leading role, emphasizing its lyrical qualities. The ensemble was at its best in the third movement, a slow canon given added weight by Neal Cary’s deeply resonant cello.

The cellist and pianist Walter rounded out the program with two works by Robert Schumann, the Adagio and Allegro in A flat major, Op. 70, originally for horn and piano, and “Three Fantasy Pieces,” Op. 73, originally for clarinet and piano. Both are commonly played by cellists or violists.

Cary and Walter effectively conveyed Schumann’s dark-hued lyricism, especially in the “Fantasy Pieces.”

The Richmond Chamber Players’ Interlude series continues with works for strings by Florence Price, Sergei Prokofiev and William Bolcom at 3 p.m. Aug. 11 at Bon Air Presbyterian Church, 9201 W. Huguenot Road. Tickets: $25. Details: http://www.richmondchamberplayers.org