Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 30

noon-3 p.m. EST
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Chopin: Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61
Stephen Hough, piano

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

Debussy: “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”
Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth
(Harmonia Mundi)

J.S. Bach: “Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue,” BWV 903
Ivan Moravec, piano

Past Masters:
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
(Sony Classical)
(recorded 1959)

Michael Torke: “Ash”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/David Zinman

Beethoven: Sonata in C major, Op. 53 (“Waldstein”)
Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano

Schubert: Symphony No. 2 in B flat major
Anima Eterna Brugge/Jos van Immerseel
(Zig Zag Territories)

Review: Richmond Symphony

Steven Smith conducting
Jan. 27, Blackwell Auditorium, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland

Debussy to the rescue.

The Richmond Symphony’s latest Metro Collection program concluded with “La boîte à joujoux” (“The Toybox”), a ballet score composed in 1913 by Claude Debussy, orchestrated by André Caplet in 1919, a year after the composer’s death. Full of Debussy’s trademark harmonic and expressive traits, the piece is unusual for this composer in its light-hearted whimsy.

That quality came through consistently in the performance by the symphony, led by Steven Smith. Pianist Russell Wilson and several wind players, notably Shawn Welk in an extended English horn solo, paced a stylish and subtly colorful reading of the score, bring to life a scenario of a three-way romantic entanglement among figures from the commedia dell’arte tradition.

The Debussy salvaged a program otherwise plagued by qualitative woes.

The opener, the Overture in C major by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (Felix Mendelssohn’s sister), was a forgettable exercise in early romantic orchestration and musical structure, blandly rendered by the orchestra.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183, the composer’s most substantial venture into the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) genre of 18th-century composition, received a choppily metrical reading, with rather slow tempos (especially in the finale), blunt accenting and minimal dynamism. Oboe solos by Mark Debski served to underscore the expressive quality otherwise lacking in this performance.

The Randolph-Macon concert, a condensed version of the “South Asian Connections” program staged on Jan. 23 in the University of Richmond’s Tucker-Boatwright Festival, featured “Open My Door” (2015) by Dewa Alit, an Indonesian composer who leads a Balinese gamelan, a traditional ensemble of resonant percussion instruments, and also works in jazz and Western classical forms.

This piece seeks to translate the form and sonorities of the gamelan to Western instruments – a string quintet, piano, woodwinds and brass – in a style also drawing upon the jazz/blues shuffle. An interesting concept, to be sure, but one that sounds to be a very gradual, almost glacial, evolution from stray tonal fragments into a coherent composition.

Smith and the symphony ensemble ably negotiated Alit’s complex rhythmic constructs of sound and silence and intricate interplay of instrumental voices. Pianist Wilson reliably provided the rhythmic and tonal connective tissue that, to Western ears, gave “Open My Door” some sense of continuity.

Michel Legrand (1932-2019)

Michel Legrand, the pianist and prolific French film composer, has died at 86.

Best-known for composing more than 200 film scores – among them, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” “The Summer of ’42,” “Yentl” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” – Legrand also was a piano prodigy who went on to perform as a sideman and orchestrator for jazz artists such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane and for the cabaret singers Edith Piaf, Yves Montand and Maurice Chevalier.

An obituary by Tim Greiving for The Washington Post:


Free Modlin Center tickets for furloughed feds

The University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center is offering furloughed federal employees free tickets to 12 winter and spring attractions.

Federal workers presenting official identification may obtain two adult and two child tickets without charge for these events: Mark Morris Dance Group, Jan. 25-26; “Sounds of China,” Feb. 1; pianist Daniil Trifonov, Feb. 7; the Bolshoi Ballet broadcast of “La Sylphide,” Feb. 10; the NT Live broadcast of “I’m Not Running,” Feb. 14; the Richmond Symphony in “South Asian Connections,” Feb. 22; Mayumana’s “Currents,” March 6; Banda Magda, March 8; the Bolshoi Ballet broadcast of “The Sleeping Beauty,” March 10; TheatreWorks USA in “The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System,” March 10; The Pigeoning, March 20; and the Batsheva Dance Company’s “Venezuela,” March 23.

All will be presented at the Modlin Center on UR’s West End campus except Mayumanna and the Batsheva Dance Company, which are performing at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center downtown.

For more information on obtaining tickets, call the Modlin Center box office at (804) 289-8980 or visit http://modlin.richmond.edu/free-federal-employee-tickets.html

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 23

noon-3 p.m. EST
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Elgar: “Polonia”
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Andrew Davis

Anton Rubinstein: Piano Concerto No. 4 in D minor
Anna Shelest, piano
The Orchestra NOW/Neeme Järvi
(Sorel Classics)

Rachmaninoff: Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, No. 10
Yuja Wang, piano
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Past Masters:
Dvořák: “Symphonic Variations on an Original Theme,” Op. 78
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
(Deutsche Grammophon)
(recorded 1974)

Haydn: Quartet in D major, Op. 64, No. 5
Danish String Quartet
(Cavi Music)

Mieczyslaw Weinberg: Fantasia for cello and orchestra
Claes Gunnarsson, cello
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Thord Svedlund

Sibelius: “The Wood-Nymph”
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä

Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 in C minor (“Organ”)
Paul Jacobs, organ
Utah Symphony/Thierry Fischer

Free LolliPops tickets for shutdown workers

“A Lemony Snicket Mystery,” the Richmond Symphony’s next LolliPops concert, will be open free to federal employees affected by the current government shutdown.

Each eligible patron may obtain up to four tickets for the concert, which begins at 11 a.m. Jan. 19 at Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre, Sixth and Grace streets. A pre-concert festival begins at 10 a.m. in the center’s Rhythm Hall.

Chia-Hsuan Lin will conduct the concert, which is tailored to children and families.

Go to https://www.richmondsymphony.com/event/lemony-snicket-mystery/2019-01-19/ Click “buy tickets,” and select the federal government employees price code. At the theater’s will-call window on the concert date, present a federal employee identification to receive the free tickets.

For more information, call the symphony’s patron services desk at (804) 788-1212.

Letter V Classical Radio Jan. 9

Musical anniversaries of 2019: No major composer’s birthday (à la Leonard Bernstein in 2018), but this is an anniversary year for a range of well-known works – Franz Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet, Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto, Manuel de Falla’s “The Three-Cornered Hat,” Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and more.

noon-3 p.m. EST
1600-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Offenbach: “Gaîté Parisienne” – cancan
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Seiji Ozawa
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major, D. 667 (“Trout”)
Martin Helmchen, piano
Christian Tetzlaff, violin
Antoine Tamestit, viola
Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, cello
Alois Posch, double-bass

Falla: “Three Dances from ‘The Three-Cornered Hat’ ”
London Symphony Orchestra/Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos
(IMP Classics)

Past Masters:
Weber: “Invitation to the Dance”
(orchestration by Hector Berlioz)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
(RCA Red Seal)
(recorded 1957)

Respighi: “La Boutique fantasque”
(after Gioachino Rossini)
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Jesús López-Cobos

Prokofiev: “Overture on Hebrew Themes”
Elena Bashkirova, piano
Berlin Soloists

Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
London Symphony Orchestra/André Previn
(Sony Classical)

Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
Berlin Philharmonic/Mariss Jansons
(Warner Classics)

Review: Alexander Paley

Jan. 6, St. Luke Lutheran Church

Pianist Alexander Paley, in the winter concert of his Richmond music festival, etched a high musical contrast as he played the Op. 28 preludes of Frédéric Chopin and “Ten Pieces from ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ ” Op. 75, by Sergei Prokofiev.

Chopin’s set of 24 preludes, written between 1835 and 1839, likely modeled on or inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach’s cycles of preludes and fugues in “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” are a cycle that systematically works through all the major and minor keys. The faster pieces also serve as virtuoso keyboard showpieces. Several of the preludes rank among the greatest examples of Chopin’s tone- and mood-painting.

Whether the set was intended to be played in full in public performance, as Paley did in this concert, is debated by musicologists. What’s not debatable is that the whole set can be heard as a nearly comprehensive sampling of the tonal, textural and spiritual effects that Chopin produced in his piano music, and in generations of keyboard writing that followed.

Paley gave full vent to his often explosive temperament in the faster and more note-heavy preludes, such as No. 3 in G major, No. 8 in F sharp minor and No. 16 in B flat minor, at times taxing the capacity of St. Luke’s Cristofori baby grand to project dense clusters of tone without congestion. He coaxed more agreeable and subtly colored tone in more reflective pieces, notably the well-known Prelude No. 15 in D flat major (known as the “Raindrop”) and the epically solemn Prelude No. 20 in C minor.

Prokofiev’s piano reduction of selections from his greatest ballet score presents a different set of challenges. “Romeo and Juliet” was one of the composer’s most masterful orchestral works, and many of that orchestration’s coloristic and expressive effects do not translate readily to the keyboard. The listener is often reminded in this score that the piano is a percussive instrument.

While the most familiar of the pieces, “The Montagues and the Capulets,” survives the transition from orchestra to keyboard with its grimly heavy march tread intact, dances such as the Minuet and “Dance of the girls with lilies” are markedly more angular than in the orchestration, and moodier sections, such as “Young Juliet” and “Romeo and Juliet before parting,” are almost different pieces of music in the piano version.

Paley played the Prokofiev score with audible fluency and affection, and without hurrying its more turbulent passages.

Scoring silence

The New York Times’ Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, focusing on a recital by clarinetist Marton Fröst and pianist Henrik Mawe as part of the “Live Music Meditation” series at Princeton University, examines the constructive role of silence both within music and around performances of it:

David Felberg, a violinist and conductor who directs a similar series, Chatter, in Albuquerque, tells Fonseca-Wollheim that silence serves as “a bit of a palate-cleanser. It’s almost like you’re fresh and ready to listen to the music.”

I can attest to that from personal experience. Some years ago, while working on assorted household projects, I heard no music for nearly three days. After that fast, the first music I was exposed to – keyboard sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, as it happened – I heard as I had not heard music for many years.

After writing about that experience, I was invited by the University of Richmond’s Jennifer Cable to help her students replicate that experience. Few managed it. Music was omnipresent in their environment – they couldn’t escape, even for a few hours.

These days, silence has to be programmed.