Review: Crutcher & Kong

Ronald Crutcher, cello
Joanne Kong, piano
July 9, Dominion Energy Center

In its first live presentation in nearly four months, the Richmond Symphony opened its Summer Series, “Comfort and Joy,” marking the 200th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, with a short program featuring Ronald Crutcher, the cellist and president of the University of Richmond, and his UR colleague, pianist Joanne Kong.

They played before a socially distanced audience of 34 and on a video-audio stream seen and heard during the live performance by more than 200. (Access to the stream remains open to paying customers for the next six days.)

This program focuses largely on Beethoven’s early works, with Crutcher and Kong playing Beethoven’s “Variations on ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’ from Mozart’s ‘Die Zauberflöte’ ” and the Sonata in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2, for cello and piano, and the pianist playing two of the composer’s bagatelles, Op. 126, No. 3, and Op. 33, No. 1, both in E flat major.

Both musicians, playing in masks, visibly and audibly relished the chance to resume live performance of music in Richmond, which has happened only a few times since the coronavirus pandemic struck the US in late winter.

Crutcher, who must balance his work as a performer with the duties of running a large academic institution, sounds to have used the months of relatively limited activity and mobility to hone his chops both technically and in musicianship, with especially gratifying results in the more lyrical sections of the variations and sonata.

The ever-reliable Kong, meanwhile, played her parts in the two works with cello and the two bagatelles with great clarity, adopting a rather light touch in music that harkens back to Mozart, explicitly in the variations and implicitly in the earlier of the bagatelles and in the sonata’s closing rondo movement.

Kong’s lyrical voice came through with profound affect in the Op. 126, No. 3 bagatelle, one of the last works that Beethoven wrote for the piano, as she emphasized the piece’s anthemic and elegiac qualities.

The video and audio quality of the stream, produced by VPM, is more than satisfactory, with the performance shot from multiple angles, good closeups of the performers and their instruments and few awkward transitions. No electronic transmission of a concert really takes you there; but this one comes close enough, and never allows production values to get in the way of the performance.

The video stream of the recital by Ronald Crutcher and Joanne Kong may be accessed through July 15, and subsequent programs in the Richmond Symphony Summer Series, at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 13, are open to limited numbers of patrons in Dominion Energy Center’s Gottwald Playhouse and via online streams. Subscriptions: $60; single tickets: $12. Details: (804) 788-1212; (Single concert tickets may be purchased through links from that address.)

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