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; http://www.richmondsymphony.com

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