Review: Richmond Symphony Summer Series

Adrian Pintea, violin
Russell Wilson, piano
July 18, Dominion Energy Center

Ardian Pintea, assistant concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony, and Russell Wilson, the orchestra’s pianist and a veteran performer and teacher at various institutions in the region, took on a succession of formidable technical and interpretive challenges in the second program of the symphony’s Summer Series, this year exploring chamber music by American composers.

The duo negotiated the almost constantly shifting terrain of John Corigliano’s Violin Sonata (1963), a work that the composer, now an esteemed elder of American music, wrote when he was 25 and audibly testing his capacities and those of performers. In introductory remarks, Pintea noted that Corigliano wrote the sonata for his father, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic (1943-66), who declined to play it unless another violinist of stature agreed to. The younger Corigliano sent the score to Jascha Heifetz, who tersely spurned it. (Corigliano Sr. relented, and recorded the piece in 1965.)

The outer movements of the Corigliano sonata are packed with vivid, elaborate displays of violin technique, often at extremes of the instrument’s register, vying with dense, angular piano accompaniment. The inner andantino and lento movements form a dark fantasy, the most expressive and musically coherent sections of the piece. Pintea and Wilson emphasized the lyricism and sonic atmospherics at the center of the sonata.

Wilson faced a comparable challenge in the first movement of George Walker’s Piano Sonata No. 1, written in 1953 and revised in 1991. The long-lived (1922-2018) composer, who also was an accomplished pianist, was one of the first African-Americans to establish himself in the mainstream of classical music in the US. Wilson observed that Walker’s references to black vernacular styles such as blues and jazz were subtle elements of a generally abstract musical language.

The sonata movement, marked allegro energico, is sternly neo-classical in style, with touches of impressionism in quieter passages. Wilson’s performance, appropriately, alternated between manic energy and moody reverie.

Pintea played two movements from Max Stern’s “Bedouin Impressions” (1989), a solo-violin album of sound-pictures of the composer’s time in Israel. The featured pieces, “Pastoral” and “Lament,” are finely spun and open-textured, calling for rarified tone production and sensitivity to silence as a musical element. The violinist proved to be a convincing advocate for Stern’s work.

Pintea and Wilson opened the program with four miniatures by Samuel Barber, nicely riding the lyrical flow of arrangements of “St. Ita’s Vision” and “The Desire for Hermitage” from the “Hermit Songs” cycle of 1953, and “Canzone (Elegy)” (1959), an alternate version of an arrangement for flute and piano of the slow movement of Barber’s Piano Concerto. The duo turned up the heat in “Gypsy Dance” (1922), written by the 12-year-old Barber for an unfinished opera, “Rose Tree.”

The Richmond Symphony Summer Series continues on July 25 with French horn player Dominic Rotella and pianist Ingrid Keller playing works by Bernstein, Gershwin, Alan Hovhaness, Robert Weirich, Carol Barnett and Paul Basler. The series presents hour-long chamber-music programs at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 15 in Gottwald Playhouse of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20 (seating limited). Details: (804) 788-1212;

National Philharmonic faces shutdown

The National Philharmonic, an orchestra of freelance professional musicians performing in Montgomery County, MD, a suburb of Washington, anticipates ceasing operations this summer. Its finances have been squeezed by decreased support from the county and increased fees at its principal venue, the Music Center at Strathmore.

The orchestra, whose annual operating budget is about $2 million, would need $150,000 to salvage its fall season, The Washington Post’s Anne Midgette reports:

Letter V Classical Radio July 17

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

Corelli: Concerto grosso in D major, Op. 6, No. 7
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Gottfried von der Goltz

Respighi: “Concerto all’antica”
Ingolf Turban, violin
English Chamber Orchestra/Marcello Viotti

Martinů: Concerto grosso for two pianos and chamber orchestra
Jaroslav Šaroun & Karel Růžička, pianos
Czech Philharmonic/Jiří Bělohlávek

Franz Berwald: “Grand Septet” in B flat major
Anima Eterna

Louise Farrenc: Piano Quintet in A minor, Op. 30
Schubert Ensemble

Beethoven: Romance No. 2 in F major, Op. 50
Katarina Andreasson, violin
Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro/Thomas Dausgaard
(Simax Classics)

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488
Richard Goode, piano
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Brahms: String Quintet in G major, Op. 111
(string-orchestra arrangement)
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson
(Channel Classics)

Review: Richmond Symphony Summer Series

Ron Crutcher, cello
Joanne Kong, piano
July 11, Dominion Energy Center

Samuel Barber’s Cello Sonata in C minor, Op. 6, composed when the 22-year-old Barber was concluding his studies at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music, anticipates much of his later instrumental music, wavering in style between neo-classicism and romanticism, most memorable when it emphasizes the latter.

In the opening concert of the Richmond Symphony Summer Series, whose theme this year is “Exploring America,” Ron Crutcher, the cellist who serves as president of the University of Richmond (a co-presenter of the series), and his UR colleague, pianist Joanne Kong, delivered an ardent account of the Barber sonata.

Crutcher’s instrument, which has a markedly deep tone, was at times overbalanced by the piano – Barber’s piano part is busy, often brilliantly so. The cellist prevailed where it counted, though, in the succession of lyrical themes that crop up throughout the sonata.

Kong’s solo moments came in two of Philip Glass’ etudes for piano. Glass, who with several collaborators played all 20 of these pieces several years ago at UR, remarked at the time that the first 10 were written primarily for his own practice, with the second set of 10 more attuned to public performance.

Sure enough, the Etude No. 2 sounded like a technical exercise, a miniature exemplar of Glass’ “music with repetitive structures,” while the Etude No. 12 was a more elaborate and finished product, a piano rag with neo-romantic trappings. Kong played the former with disciplined clarity and the latter with freer phrasing and richer tone.

Crutcher opened the program with his signature piece, “Argoru II” for solo cello by Alvin Singleton, written for Crutcher when both were graduate students at Yale Unversity, and subsequently recorded by the cellist.

The title, from the Twi language of Ghana, translates as “play,” Crutcher explained in introductory remarks, adding that play in this context is serious business. The cellist is run through a veritable gauntlet of techniques and sonic gestures, plucking as often as bowing, frequently bending notes, and putting frequent silences into context with sound. It is decidedly uneasy listening, but compelling as one sees and hears the cellist negotiate its many challenges.

Crutcher and Kong concluded the program with an arrangement of the second of George Gershwin’s three preludes, originally for solo piano. This bluesiest and most lyrical of the preludes lends itself nicely to the songful qualities of the cello.

The Richmond Symphony Summer Series continues with violinist Adrian Pintea and pianist Russell Wilson playing works by Samuel Barber, George Walker, John Corigliano and Max Stern at 6:30 p.m. July 18 in Gottwald Playhouse of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $20 (seating limited). Details: (804) 788-1212;

Symphony music director candidate withdraws

Paolo Bortolameolli, one of the six candidates vying to become the next music director of the Richmond Symphony, has withdrawn, electing to remain with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he is associate conductor.

The Masterworks series concerts he was to have conducted, on Nov. 16 and 17, will be led by Chia-Hsuan Lin, the Richmond Symphony’s associate conductor. The program remains the same: Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, with Eduardo Rojas as guest soloist; Bartók’s “Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta;” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor.

Remaining candidates for Richmond Symphony music director are Roderick Cox, former associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra; Ankush Kumar Bahl, former assistant conductor of Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra; Laura Jackson, music director of the Reno (NV) Philharmonic; Valentina Peleggi, resident conductor of the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo in Brazil; and Farkhad Khudyev, music director of the Hidden Valley Orchestra Institute and Youth Music Monterey County in California.

Letter V Classical Radio July 10

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

Haydn: Symphony No. 63 in C major (“La Roxelane”)
Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Benjamin Spillner
(Hänssler Classic)

Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor
Antonio Meneses, cello
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Claudio Cruz

Baldassare Galuppi: Sonata in C major, Illy 27
Aleksandar Serdar, piano
(Warner Classics)

Mozart: “Così fan tutte” Overture
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Yannick Nézet-Séguin
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Stravinsky: Concerto for piano and wind instruments
(1950 version)
Paul Crossley, piano
London Sinfonietta/Esa-Pekka Salonen
(Sony Classical)

Past Masters:
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
(RCA Red Seal)
(recorded 1959)

Olli Mustonen: Nonet No. 1
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Olli Mustonen

Debussy: “Six épigraphes antiques”
(orchestration by Ernest Ansermet)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Kazuki Yamada

Janáček: Sinfonietta
Czech Philharmonic/Jiří Bělohlávek

Letter V Classical Radio July 3

American classical music of the 19th century, other than the works that Antonin Dvořák wrote during his 1890s sojourn in this country, is rarely explored territory. In this eve-of-Fourth of July program, we’ll hear long-neglected compositions by Amy Beach, Arthur Foote, Victor Herbert, John Knowles Paine, George Whitefield Chadwick, William Henry Fry and George Frederick Bristow.

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

George Whitefield Chadwick: “Rip Van Winkle” Overture
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi

Arthur Foote: Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 5
Trio Déjà vu

John Knowles Paine: “Poseiden and Amphitrite – an Ocean Fantasy”
Ulster Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta

Amy Beach: Piano Concerto in C sharp minor
Danny Driver, piano
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Rebecca Miller

Victor Herbert: Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
New York Philharmonic/Kurt Masur
(Sony Classical)

William Henry Fry: “Niagara Symphony”
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Tony Rowe

George Frederick Bristow: Symphony No. 2 in D minor (“Jullien”)
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Rebecca Miller
(New World)