Review: Belvedere Series

Natalie Kress, violin
Danielle Wiebe Burke, viola
Jonathan Ruck, cello
Ingrid Keller, piano
Sept. 25, Marburg House

The Belvedere Series of chamber-music concerts launched its first full season in a program that overlapped the baroque and romantic, with J.S. Bach’s Suite in D major, BWV 1012, for solo cello, Johan Halvorsen’s set of variations on a sarabande by George Frideric Handel, and Robert Schumann’s Piano Quartet in E flat major, Op. 47.

The music was made in the parlor of the Marburg House, the oldest residence (vintage 1889) in Richmond’s Carillon neighborhood. The room is much the same size as the spaces in which chamber music usually was played in the 19th century. These performances sounded bigger, though, thanks to the louder, richer tone of modern fiddles and piano. The sound of the Schumann was about as much as could be heard comfortably in this space.

Cellist Jonathan Ruck, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, emphasized melody and tonal warmth in the Bach suite, pacing its dance movements moderately and rarely letting elaborate figurations and expressive asides interrupt the lyrical flow of the suite’s allemande and sarabande. By today’s historically informed standards, it was an old-fashioned reading, but interpretively satisfying and cognizant of baroque style.

Halvorsen’s 1897 set of variations on the sarabande from Handel’s Harpsichord Suite in D minor is one of the staples of the repertory for violin-and-viola duos. Its primary source is even older: the Portuguese-Spanish tune “La Folía,” borrowed by hundreds of composers, from Corelli to Rachmaninoff.

The piece received robust, rhythmically acute treatment from the Washington-based violinist Natalie Kress and Danielle Wiebe Burke, principal violist of the Williamsburg Symphony Orchestra, both audibly attuned to Halvorsen’s romantic style and the music’s antique source.

Pianist Ingrid Keller, the artistic director of the Belvedere Series, a member of the music faculty at the College of William and Mary and rehearsal pianist of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, joined the three string musicians in a well-balanced and echt-Romantisch account of the Schumann, who was near the high tide of his early 1840s flood of chamber music in this piece, written within weeks of his better-known Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 44.

The four musicians took care to make their instrumental voices both complementary and differentiated, helped substantially by the space in which they played.

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