Letter V Classical Radio May 1

1-3 p.m. EDT
1700-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges:
Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 5, No. 2

Rachel Barton Pine, violin
Encore Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Hege

Haydn: Symphony No. 82 in C major (“The Bear”)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Colin Davis

Schumann: Konzertstück in F major, Op. 86
Roger Montgomery, Gavin Edwards, Susan Dent & Robert Maskell, horns
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Dvořák: Serenade in E major, Op. 22, for strings
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson
(Channel Classics)

Brahms: “Academic Festival” Overture
London Philharmonic/Eugen Jochum
(Warner Classics)

Review: Richmond Symphony

I am medically advised to avoid crowded public events, and so cannot attend concerts. The Richmond Symphony is making video streams of its mainstage concerts available to ticket-holders. The stream of this program became accessible on April 26.

Tito Muñoz conducting
with Michelle Cann, piano
April 22-23, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

Frédéric Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, introduced in 1830 by the then-20-year-old pianist-composer, reflects the instrumental vogue of early 19th-century Europe, the busy-fingered, note-heavy style of virtuosos such as pianist Johann Nepomuk Hummel and violinist Nicólo Paganini. Amid all those notes, the concerto also pre-echoes the masterful melodist and mood-setter that Chopin would become.

Michelle Cann, recent winner of a Grammy Award for her recording of Florence Price’s Piano Concerto with the New York Youth Symphony, negotiated Chopin’s abundant pianistic filagree with finesse and persuasively coaxed his tunes out of the arpeggiated undergrowth in performances with the Richmond Symphony.

Cann played with flexible tempos and well-graded dynamics in the big first movement, with more consistent animation and rhythmic punch in the finale, and pulled off one of most challenging tricks in the concerto – setting a discernable pace for the central slow movement as it opens with quizzical two-note motifs separated by pregnant pauses. Here, as elsewhere, Cann sustained the sensation of music going somewhere, however many decorative accoutrements it wears on the journey.

Guest-conductor Tito Muñoz underlined the melodic qualities of the concerto’s orchestration and, impressively, managed to make it sound less tubby and feel less perfunctory than usual.

Cann’s encore was an arrangement that runs Sergei Rachmaninoff’s iconic Prelude in C sharp minor through the filter of 1920s stride-piano style. If that seems outrageous, remember that Rachmaninoff attended the premiere of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and quite likely heard New York stride masters such as James P. Johnson. Rachmaninoff might have chuckled appreciatively at this take on his prelude, as Cann did before she played it.

The collective string tone obtained in the Chopin by Muñoz, music director of the Phoenix Symphony, bloomed more lushly in Edward Elgar’s “Variations on an Original Theme” (“Enigma”). The orchestra’s string sections sounded larger and more richly sonorous than their relatively modest numbers might have promised.

Muñoz’s conception of Elgar’s best-known work was not standard-issue. He treated the piece as domestic music – a gathering of friends (which it literally is: Each variation is a sound-portrait of a person close to the composer), their contrasting personalites interacting sociably. (Nimrod, for once, doesn’t entirely lord it over the party.)

The interactions proceeded at a fairly leisurely pace (about 32 minutes in all), which enhanced the work’s songfulness and gave its numerous wind and string soloists ample time both to sing and to dab tone color onto the orchestral soundscape.

The symphony’s musicians gave the conductor lush yet well-defined string tone, subtly inflected wind solos and ensembles, expansive brass choirs and punchy but not intrusive percussion.

It was, altogether, a companionable “Enigma.”

The program opened with “D’un matin de printemps” (“From a Spring Morning”) by Lili Boulanger, younger sister of the great French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger and, before her death at 24, the composer of perhaps the greatest promise in continuing the French impressionist style of Maurice Ravel. This piece, in its various chamber and orchestral guises, could easily be mistaken for a work by Ravel – say, an extra movement of “Miroirs.”

Muñoz and the orchestra delivered a reading that nicely balanced atmospheric tone color and lyricism, and made the listener crave more of Boulanger. Sadly, there’s all too little.

The stream of this program remains accessible until June 30. Access: $30. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://richmondsymphony.com

Former RSO conductor wins Solti prize

Keitaro Harada, a former associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, has won first prize in this year’s Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award. He will receive $30,000.

Harada, who was on the Richmond Symphony roster in the 2014-15 season, is currently music director of the Savannah Philharmonic in Georgia and associate conductor of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. He also was associate conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Arizona Opera, and was among the young conductors mentored by the late Lorin Maazel in the music festival that Maazel staged at Castleton, his estate in Virginia’s Rappahannock County.

The Solti competition, based in Frankfurt, Germany, was launched in 2002 to recognize and promote the careers of conductors aged 38 or younger. (Harada, 38, just made the age cutoff.) Past prizewinners include Tomáš Netopil, James Gaffigan and Tito Muñoz, who guest-conducted the Richmond Symphony over the weekend.

Letter V Classical Radio April 24

C major – what’s not to like?

1-3 p.m. EDT
1700-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

J.S. Bach: Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564
Michel Chapuis, organ
(United Archives)

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major
Martha Argerich, piano
Berlin Philharmonic/Claudio Abbado
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Vivaldi: Mandolin Concerto in C major, RV 425
Rolf Lislevand, mandolin
Ensemble Kapsberger

Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K. 503
Francesco Piemontesi, piano
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Andrew Manze

Stravinsky: Symphony in C
London Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
(Sony Classical)

The Mahler ‘revival’ was a continuation

The symphonies and song cycles of Gustav Mahler largely disappeared from the repertory after the composer’s death in 1911, and waited half a century until Leonard Bernstein reintroduced them to a wider public. That has been the conventional view since the 1960s.

An erroneous view, according to Sybille Werner, a conductor who worked with the authoritative Mahler biographer Henry-Louis de la Grange. During her research, Werner “collected information on about 4,000 instances of a Mahler orchestral work performed by around 300 conductors between 1911 and 1961.”

In addition to well-known examples such as Willem Mengelberg’s Mahler cycles with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, beginning in 1920, and frequent performances by Mahler protégés Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer and Oskar Fried, Werner found that Mahler symphony cycles were staged in a number of Central European music centers before World War II, and that “Das Lied von der Erde” was performed 67 times in Vienna before the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1938.

“It was due to the emergence of recordings that Mahler’s music eventually became generally well known,” Werner writes for Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog:

Comment of the week: The secret life of Mahler symphonies

‘A gulp of water to a thirsty guy’

The Washington Post’s Sydney Page reports on two good Samaritans’ efforts to provide an Afghan refugee with a replacement for the violin he left behind.

The good Samaritans are Jeremy Bloom, a sound designer in Brooklyn, and Latif Nassar, a Los Angeles-based science journalist. The refugee is Ali Esmahilzada, who left Afghanistan with the clothes on his back, fearful of being branded a criminal by the Taliban regime because he makes music.

Bloom owned a violin, a German instrument made 110 years ago, unplayed for years. Getting it to Esmahilzada, however, was a problem. “You do not want to ship an antique violin in the mail,” Bloom said. Nassar, himself the son of refugees, agreed to carry it to LA. Putting it into Esmahilzada’s hands turned out not to be quick or easy, but a handover eventually was arranged.

“The more I heard his story and how deeply alone he was, I decided I could be that person for him,” Nasser told the Post’s Page. “I could cosmically repay the people who did that for my parents, by doing it for him.” The instrument was like “a gulp of water to a thirsty guy.”

Esmahilzada, who lived hand-to-mouth in menial jobs for some time after arriving in the US, now has a green card and better employment prospects. And a violin:


Letter V Classical Radio April 17

1-3 p.m. EDT
1700-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Chopin: Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 (“Héroïque”)
Charles Richard-Hamelin, piano

Kodály: “Variations on a Hungarian Folksong” (“The Peacock”)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi

Mieczysław Weinberg: Fantasy, Op. 52, for cello & orchestra
Pieter Wispelwey, cello
Les Métamorphoses/Rafaël Feye
(Evil Penguin)

Bernhard Molique: Oboe Concertino in G minor
Heinz Holliger, oboe
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eliahu Inbal
(Brilliant Classics)

Brahms: String Sextet in G major, Op. 36
Belcea Quartet
Tabea Zimmermann
, viola
Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello

Gifts of the maestro

Gianandrea Noseda, the Italian conductor who is music director of Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra, has been quietly loaning vintage stringed instruments to members of the orchestra. At present, they are playing seven violins and one viola from a collection that Noseda has been assembling since 2011.

“Noseda’s personal investment in the instruments – collectively valued at $5 million – is less the indulgence of a collector than the intervention of an artist,” The Washington Post’s Michael Andor Brodeur writes.

The source of the loans has been masked through a foundation and a trust. “I thought that it was better to keep it in an anonymous element,” Noseda told Brodeur. “I didn’t want it to appear that this is ‘something about Gianandrea.’ It’s more connected with a general idea of sound, a general idea of motivation.”

Most of the instruments in Noseda’s collection, crafted in the 18th and early 19th centuries, were acquired during his years as music director of Teatro Regio in Turin, Brodeur reports:


Virginia Opera 2023-24

Virginia Opera continues its cycle of chamber-scale arrangements of Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle music-dramas with “Siegfried,” opening the company’s 2023-24 season.

The season also features “Sanctuary Road,” an opera by Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell on the life of William Still, a historian and abolitionist who as a conductor on the Underground Railroad helped some 800 slaves escape to freedom.

Two staples of the Italian opera repertory, Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” round out the new season.

The company performs at the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, the Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax, and the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center in Richmond.

Casting and other details of the productions will be announced later.

For information on subscription ticket packages, call Virginia Opera’s box office at (866) 673-7282 or visit http://vaopera.org

Dates and venues for the 2023-24 season.

– “Siegfried” (arrangement by Jonathan Dove & Graham Vick): Sept. 29 and Oct. 1, Norfolk; Oct. 7 and 8, Fairfax; Oct. 13 and 15, Richmond. In German, English captions.

– “The Barber of Seville:” Nov. 3, 4 and 5, Norfolk; Nov. 11 and 12, Fairfax; Nov. 17 and 19, Richmond. In Italian, English capitions.

– “Sanctuary Road:” Jan. 26 and 28, Norfolk; Feb. 3 and 4, Fairfax; Feb. 9 and 11, Richmond. In English, English capitions.

– “Madame Butterfly:” March 8, 9 and 10, Norfolk; March 16 and 17, Fairfax; March 22 and 24, Richmond. In Italian, English captions.

Letter V Classical Radio April 10

1-3 p.m. EDT
1700-1900 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Wagner: “Tannhäuser” – Overture & Bacchanale
Berlin Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel

Mendelssohn: “Die erste Walpurgisnacht”
Anneliese Burmeister, alto
Eberhard Büchner, tenor
Siegfried Lorenz, baritone
Siegfried Vogel, bass
Rundfunkchor Leipzig
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Kurt Masur

(Berlin Classics)

Haydn: Symphony No. 102 in B flat major
Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen

Richard Strauss: Burleske in D minor
Bertrand Chamayou, piano
Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
(Warner Classics)

Rossini: “William Tell” Overture
Munich Chamber Orchestra/Alexander Liebreich
(Sony Classical)