Review: Jang & Wilson

Jeanette Jang, violin
Russell Wilson, piano
Aug. 6, Dominion Energy Center

In the penultimate program of the Richmond Symphony Sumer Series’ salute to Beethoven, two of the symphony’s musicians, violinist Jeanette Jang and pianist Russell Wilson, sampled two composers at work around the turn of the 19th century – Beethoven and Schubert – echoing the past as they found their voices.

Both composers, a decade or so apart, were students of Antonio Salieri, and stylistic descendants of Mozart and Haydn. Beethoven additionally owed a debt to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the mid-18th century master of sophisticated musical structures and abrupt expressive and dynamic shifts.

Jang and Wilson opened their program with Schubert’s Sonatina in D major, D. 384, a straightforward, lightweight work by a 13-year-old composer already demonstrating the lyrical gifts he would exploit so memorably in maturity.

Wilson followed that with the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in C major, Op. 2, No. 3, often cited as the composer’s first truly virtuosic solo-piano work. The pianist brought out both the quick-fingered filagree of the movement and its robust, declarative bass lines, and sustained continuity in music that often defies linearity.

The gem of the program was Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in G major, Op. 30, No. 3, music representing classical style in full bloom with buds of romanticism, its cheerful outer movements bracketing a slow minuet rooted in one of the composer’s most bittersweet tunes.

In that slow movement, Jang and Wilson adopted an unusually measured tempo that gave extra soulfulness to the tune and extra expressive edge to its elaborations. Their treatment of the sonata’s perpetual-motion finale was brisk, technically secure and as thoroughly collaborative as any duo could be.

Audio breakups, so pronounced in the video stream of the July 30 concert by violinist Daisuke Yamamoto and pianist Michelle Huang that the symphony posted a substitute video (see the Aug. 4 post below for the link, which is operative until the end of the month), again cropped up in this performance, but were minor by comparison.

The video stream of the recital by Jeanette Jang and Russell Wilson may be accessed through Aug. 5, and the final program of the Richmond Symphony Summer Series, at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 13, are open to limited numbers of patrons in Dominion Energy Center’s Gottwald Playhouse and via online streams. Tickets: $12 per concert. Details: (804) 788-1212; (Single tickets may be purchased via links on that page.)

Leon Fleisher (1928-2020)

Leon Fleisher, the patriarch of US pianists, has died at 92.

A pupil of Artur Schnabel, Fleisher seemed destined to inherit his teacher’s mantle as a master of Austro-German classical and romantic music. His recordings of Beethoven and Brahms concertos, made with conductor George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, as well as a number of solo recordings, have been considered reference versions since they were released in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

In 1964, Fleisher contracted focal dystonia, a neurological condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions and loss of control over movement, and lost the ability to play with his right hand. He continued teaching – he had joined the faculty of Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory in 1959, and later taught at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts – and began performing the repertory for piano left-hand, much of it written for the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who had lost his right arm in World War I. Fleisher also took up conducting.

After years of unsuccessful treatments for his disability, he found a regimen that worked and was able to resume performing with two hands in 1995. He often played as a duo pianist with his wife, Katherine Jacobson.

After restarting his two-handed career, Fleisher performed at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center in 2006 and with Jacobson inaugurated a new Steinway in a 2018 Rennolds Chamber Concerts program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

An obituary by Allan Kozinn for The New York Times:

An obituary and appreciation by Anne Midgette, former music critic of The Washington Post and co-author of Fleisher’s memoir, “My Nine Lives:”

A historic space ‘sings’ once more

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to resume use of Istanbul’s Byzantine-era cathedral, Hagia Sophia, as a mosque, ending an 86-year period in which it was a museum, provoked an international outcry. One consequence of the conversion of the 1,500-year-old structure for Islamic prayer is dampening of the vast interior’s singular acoustics.

The New York Times’ Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim reports on efforts by Stanford University art historian Bissera Pentcheva and Jonathan Abel, a Stanford colleague working at the university’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, to electronically replicate the complex reverberance of choral music that was created when Hagia Sophia was the center of Orthodox Christianity.

The work of Pentcheva and Abel led to a recording, “Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia,” by Cappella Romana, a Portland, OR-based ensemble led by Alexander Lingas, that presents Byzantine liturgical music as it’s believed to have sounded in the medieval cathedral. Samples of this remarkable venture in musical archaeology are included with the article:

“Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia,” on CD plus Blu-Ray discs or in several digital file formats, may be ordered from:

Tracks from the recording also may be heard on YouTube.