Letter V Classical Radio April 24

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
http://wdce.net

J.S. Bach: Passacaglia in D minor
(adaptation of Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, by Rinaldo Alessandrini)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
(Naïve)

Brahms: “Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel,” Op. 24
Shai Wosner, piano
(Onyx)

J.S. Bach: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
(orchestration by Ottorino Respighi)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
(Naxos)

Schubert: Sonata in A major, D. 959
András Schiff, fortepiano
(ECM)

Terry Riley: “Etude from the Old Country”
ZOFO piano duo
(Sono Luminus)

Stravinsky: “L’histoire du soldat” Suite
Tianwa Yang, violin
Virginia Arts Festival Chamber Players/JoAnn Falletta
(Naxos)

Haydn: Symphony No. 92 in G major (“Oxford”)
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs
(Harmonia Mundi)

Letter V Classical Radio April 17

Music for Easter, ancient and modern . . .

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
http://wdce.net

Orlande de Lassus: “O Deus” (Easter dialogue)
Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier
(Harmonia Mundi)

Fauré: Requiem
Johannette Zomer, soprano
Stephan Genz, baritone
La Chapelle Royale
Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestre des Champs Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
(Harmonia Mundi)

Vaughan Williams: “The Lark Ascending”
Hagai Shaham, violin
New Queen’s Hall Orchestra/Barry Wordsworth
(Argo)

J.S. Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 (“Dorian”)
George Ritchie, organ
(Raven)

Past Masters:
Britten: “Sinfonia da Requiem”
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Benjamin Britten
(Decca)
(recorded 1964)

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor (“Resurrection”)
Ruby Hughes, soprano
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano
Minnesota Chorale
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
(BIS)

Review: Richmond Symphony

Steven Smith conducting
with Richmond Symphony Chorus,
University of Richmond Schola Cantorum & Women’s Chorale,
Joanne Kong & Paul Hanson, pianos
April 13, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

In the penultimate program of his 10-year tenure as music director of the Richmond Symphony, Steven Smith led a showcase of dynamic, richly detailed and acutely color-sensitive performances of repertory spanning Europe, Asia and America.

The program featured the premiere of “she will transform you,” an orchestral-choral work by Reena Esmail, an American composer of Indian ancestry, as well as pieces by Ahmet Adnan Saygun, a French-schooled Turk who became his country’s first prominent symphonic composer; Colin McPhee, a Canadian so taken with the music of gamelan, the resonant percussion ensembles of Indonesia, that he emigrated to Bali; and Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, whose French impressionist style was informed by tonalities and stylistic influences far from Paris.

It was a fitting conclusion to the musical component of the University of Richmond’s Tucker Boatwright Festival, which has explored encounters between Western art forms and those of non-Western cultures, especially those of Asia.

Cross-cultural or “world” music is not as exotic, or as new, in the West as many assume. Medieval Italian dance music has many echoes of the Levant and Middle East, whose melodies and dances flowed along with its other exports into the trading ports of Venice and Genoa. Spanish music is a melding of European, North African (“Moorish”) and Jewish tones and rhythms. Balkan music has considerable kinship with that of the Middle East and Central Asia, either from ethnic inheritance (in the case of the Hungarian Magyars) or from centuries of rule and cultural dominance by the Ottoman Turks. The percussive military bands of the Ottoman Janissaries are echoed in the “Turkish” music of Gluck, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.

Previous Tucker-Boatwright concerts have sampled some of that Turkish/Viennese music, but the Western side of the equation mostly has been of more recent vintage, in the Asian resonations heard in Debussy’s music – the young composer was indelibly influenced by exposure to gamelan at the Paris Exposition of 1889 – and in works of the last couple of generations, in which Western composers work from Asian templates and first- or second-generation Asian-Americans write in Western forms while tapping their ancestral musical roots.

Esmail belongs to the latter group. In two works presented in the last Tucker Boatwright concert on the UR campus in February and in “she will transform you,” the 36-year-old, Los Angeles-based composer draws on Indian antecedents (in the new work, the Hindustani raga “Rageshree”) but produces music that fits snugly into the Western canon. The musical style and instrumental and vocal voicings of “she will transform you” could easily complement the impressionist-romantic music of Gabriel Fauré or Samuel Barber.

The work’s text, from “Homeland” by the Indian-American poet Neelanjana Banerjee, is a mother’s contemplation of the conflict between her native or adopted cultures and her wish that her child can bridge that divide. Email couches the text much like a prayer, effectively answering the prayer in music of lyrical repose.

The Richmond Symphony Chorus and UR’s two student chamber choruses, the Schola Cantorum and Women’s Chorale, produced a strikingly effective floating quality as they sang over an orchestration of shimmering tone colors.

The Esmail premiere followed a performance of Saygun’s “Ayin Raksi” (“Ritual Dance”) (1975), a miniature tone poem that recasts Turkish melodies and dance rhythms in a colorful, intricate orchestration that stylistically echoes Debussy and Bartók.

McPhee’s “Tabuh-Tabuhan” (1936), a gamelan-inspired quasi-concerto grosso for two pianos and large, percussion-heavy orchestra, could be described as proto-minimalist, an exercise in progressively layered and elaborated ostinato that predates such efforts by the likes of Terry Riley and Philip Glass by several musical generations. Unlike the more recent minimalists, McPhee enhanced the repetition with plentiful tonal and cross-rhythmic filagree, making this work less mesmerizing or tedious (depending on how you hear minimalism).

UR-based pianists Joanne Kong and Paul Hanson played their collective part, sometimes augmented by the symphony’s Russell Wilson on celesta, amounting to a kind of enhanced continuo, with bright-toned assertiveness, while Smith and the symphony milked McPhee’s orchestration for maximum exuberance.

Smith, who has demonstrated his mastery of French impressionist music throughout his tenure here, punctuated that history with performances of Debussy’s Nocturnes and Ravel’s “Rapsodie espagnole” that could scarcely be bettered.

The choral forces were a bit too tremulous in the opening of “Sirènes,” but otherwise the Debussy unfolded with all the timbral subtlety and atmospheric breadth a listener could desire. The quizzically lyrical English horn solo of Shawn Welk set an exploratory tone at the beginning, and the exploration was a joy to join.

Smith paced “Rapsodie espagnole” rather deliberately – Welk again played a key role in musical characterization – establishing from the beginning that this would be a performance of tone painting as well as an evocation of Spanish dance. While the dance rhythms were vivid and extroverted, notably in the concluding “Feria” (“Festival”), an unusually sensuous treatment of the Habanera may have been even more satisfying.

Given the unfamiliar music that filled so much of this program, and the complexity of orchestration and range of tonal demands in every selection, this must count as one of the true virtuoso outings by this orchestra in recent years. Its outgoing music director proved to be an unerring guide.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. April 14 in the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX); http://www.richmondsymphony.com

Review: Takács Quartet

April 12, Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond

In its latest visit to the University of Richmond, the Takács Quartet contrasted late Haydn with late Beethoven, then turned to a substantial, although interpretively elusive, piece of the romantic quartet literature, Grieg’s Quartet in G minor, Op. 27.

Beethoven has been a cornerstone of the Takács’ repertory for years. The ensemble’s cycle of the 16 quartets, recorded for Decca shortly after the turn of the century, is rated by many to be the reference set. Although the group’s membership has changed since those sessions, its approach to this music – sonically robust, assertive in accents, attentive to dynamic contrasts and to inner strands of voicings and musical lines – remains much the same.

In this program, the Takács – violinists Edward Dusinberre and Harumi Rhodes, violist Geraldine Walther and cellist András Fejér – played the last of the Beethoven quartets, the F major, Op. 135. The performance was a vivid realization of “musical argument,” an exposition of a complex construct whose big first movement almost defies performers to maintain continuity. In subsequent movements, more straightforward in construction and expression, the foursome hit its interpretive stride in the central slow movement, portraying the music as an expression of reluctant leave-taking.

The group’s treatment of Haydn’s Quartet in G major, Op. 76, No. 1, was “old school” in projecting rich string sonority – a tonal profile that might just as readily fit Brahms or Dvořák – but also more sensitive to classical style in fairly brisk tempos and sharp, even abrupt, accenting and high contrasts in dynamic levels.

If Grieg had somehow lost his score of incidental music for “Peer Gynt,” he could have reconstructed much of it from pages of his Quartet in G minor. The quartet, written a couple of years after “Peer Gynt,” mines the same vein of turbulent drama, evocative sound-scaping and lyricism that walks a fine line between sentiment and sentimentality.

In this performance, the Takács projected the high drama of the first and last movements at near-orchestral scale, paying the price of some sonic congestion, brought out the sweetness of the romanze movement with a slight undertaste of saccharine, and reveled in the folk-dance qualities of the intermezzo.

Overall, the group presented the Grieg as an epic in miniature, which it is, but also as a succession of episodes.

‘Locked into fixed positions’ in Chicago

The month-long strike by musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra seems far from resolution, as the orchestra players reject a “last, best and final offer” from management. “As of now, both sides seem locked into fixed positions,” the Chicago Tribune’s Howard Reich reports:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/reich/ct-ent-cso-strike-vote-0409-story.html

* * *

“I don’t think either side—certainly not the musicians’ union judging by their public statements—has yet recognized the degree and intensity of harsh negative feelings that this strike has already produced among the general public, arts and culture observers and even their loyal subscribers,” Chicago Classical Review’s Lawrence Johnson writes. “The damage that is being done by the current strike may take years and even decades to repair—damage to the reputation of the CSO as an institution, to the popularity and positive feelings towards the musicians, and even to the city itself.”

CSO musicians, management need to end strike now–for the good of Chicago and themselves

Letter V Classical Radio April 10

noon-3 p.m. EDT
1700-2000 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
http://wdce.net

Johann Strauss II: “Voices of Spring” Waltz
Anima Eterna Orchestra, Brugges/Jos van Immerseel
(Zig Zag Territories)

Brahms: Clarinet Sonata in F minor, Op. 120, No. 1
(orchestration by Luciano Berio)
Fausto Ghiazza, clarinet
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Riccardo Chailly
(Decca)

Chausson: “Poème de l’amour et de la mer”
Véronique Gens, soprano
Orchestre National de Lille/Alexandre Bloch
(Alpha)

Mozart: “Così fan tutte” Overture
La Cetra Baroque Orchestra, Basel/Andrea Marcon
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Past Masters:
Richard Strauss: Oboe Concerto
Heinz Holliger, oboe
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Edo de Waart
(Newton Classics)
(recorded 1970)

Josef Suk: Serenade in E flat major, Op. 6
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
(BR Klassik)

Nielsen: “Helios” Overture
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
(Dacapo)

Past Masters:
Sibelius: Symphony No. 2 in D major
Royal Philharmonic/John Barbirolli
(Chesky)
(recorded 1962)