Letter V Classical Radio Nov. 27

Sampling some of the season’s new recordings, including Thomas Zehetmair’s cycle of the solo-violin sonatas and partitas of Bach, Jonathan Biss’ ongoing cycle of the Beethoven piano sonatas, Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra from Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet No. 2 played by pianist Marc-André Hamelin and the Takács Quartet, and a “La Mer” not by Debussy.

noon-3 p.m. EST
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
http://wdce.net

J.S. Bach: Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006, for solo violin
Thomas Zehetmair, violin
(ECM)

Beethoven: Sonata in D major, Op. 10, No. 3
Jonathan Biss, piano
(Orchid Classics)

Wagner: “Parsifal” – Prelude
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Andris Nelsons
(Deutsche Grammophon)

Victorin Joncières: “La Mer”
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto
Choeur de l’Opéra national de Bordeaux
Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine/Paul Daniel
(Erato)

Dohnányi: Piano Quintet No. 2 in E flat minor, Op. 26
Marc-André Hamelin, piano
Takács Quartet
(Hyperion)

Vaughan Williams: “The Lark Ascending”
(arrangement by Paul Drayton)
Jennifer Pike, violin
Swedish Chamber Choir/Simon Phipps
(Chandos)

Bruch: Adagio appassionato, Op. 57
Jack Liebeck, violin
ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra/Howard Griffiths
(Sony Classical)

Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
(Chandos)

Richard Strauss: “Salome” – “Dance of the Seven Veils”
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
(Decca)

Stephen Cleobury (1948-2019)

Stephen Cleobury, director of music at King’s College, Cambridge, from 1982 until his retirement in July, has died at 70.

Cleobury was most widely known for leading the Kings College Choir of men and boys in the British university’s annual Festival of Lessons and Carols, broadcast worldwide and frequently issued on recordings. His last performance of the festival in 2018 marked the centenary of the event. He also led celebrated recordings of Handel’s “Messiah,” J.S. Bach’s passions and the requiems of Mozart and Fauré, and recorded varied repertory as an organist.

An obituary by Barry Millington for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/nov/24/sir-stephen-cleobury-obituary

Letter V Classical Radio Nov. 20

noon-3 p.m. EST
1500-1800 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM
http://wdce.net

Vivaldi: Oboe Concerto in A minor, RV 461
Pauline Oostenrijk, oboe
Baroque Academy of Netherlands Symphony Orchestra/Jan Willem de Vriend
(Challenge Classics)

Beethoven: Quartet in B flat major, Op. 18, No. 6
Miró Quartet
(Pentatone)

Sibelius: “Tapiola”
Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
(BIS)

Jacob ter Veldhuis (Jacob TV): Piano Concerto No. 2 (“Sky Falling”)
Ronald Brautigam, piano
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/Thierry Fischer
(Brilliant Classics)

Michael Colgrass: “Side by Side”
Joanne Kong, piano & harpsichord
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
(BMOP/sound)

Ravel: “La Valse”
Beatrice Rana, piano
(Warner Classics)

Stravinsky: Symphony in C major
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Louis Langrée
(Fanfare Cincinnati)

Haydn: Symphony No. 86 in D major
Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Fey
(Hänssler Classic)

Review: Richmond Symphony

Chia-Hsuan Lin conducting
with Eduardo Rojas, piano
Nov. 16, Carpenter Theatre, Dominion Energy Center

Chia-Hsuan Lin, the Richmond Symphony’s associate conductor, whose work here generally is limited to pops and family programs, has made the most of opportunities that arose when Paolo Bortolameoli, one of the six aspirants to become the orchestra’s next music director, withdrew over the summer. Lin took over the concerts that he was to conduct this month.

After acquitting herself admirably in a Nov. 10 Metro Collection chamber-orchestra concert, Lin faced two formidable conducting challenges, Bartók’s “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” and Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, in this subsequent Masterworks program. She rose to those challenges, and then some, in the first of two performances.

The Brahms Fourth is arguably the greatest – certainly the most interpretively daunting – symphony of the romantic era, an essay of extraordinary expressive gravity, full of complexities of form and gradations of pacing.

Romantic music has more than its share of tragedy – “oh, woe is me/she/he” is a pretty common mode of expression in the era’s concert and theatrical compositions; but the existentially tragic is rare. Not many composers treated “to be or not to be” as an open if not unanswerable question, as Brahms does in this work. Not many conductors and orchestras plumb its depths successfully, without overstating its emotions or glossing over its fine points of orchestration.

Lin, conducting from memory, and the orchestra’s musicians, playing with both passion and precision, brought out every quality one wants to hear in this music. Tempos were flexible, but the essential Brahmsian pulse never faltered. The internal details of the score, especially in its great outer movements, came through with clarity and in context. The slow movement’s poignant lyricism was fully voiced, and its continuity, which often eludes interpreters, was maintained. Stray small imperfections of execution or balance counted for little in a reading of intense concentration and unmannered sincerity.

I’ve heard the Brahms Fourth played in concert by half a dozen great orchestras, led by some of the most esteemed conductors of the past three generations. I’ve never heard a more compelling live performance than this one.

Much the same can be said of the orchestra’s treatment of the Bartók, at least technically. Lin and the ensemble of strings built the fugal theme that opens the piece with deliberation and inexorability, and gave its reprise appropriate weight at the close of the piece. In the inner sections, where percussion, piano, celesta and harp join strings voiced with spooky austerity, the musicians realized Bartók’s extraordinary range and variety of tone colors and textures, projecting the otherworldly, often ominous quality that has made this music a model for composers scoring supernatural and horror films. (Stanley Kubrick skipped the middlemen, using the adagio section in the soundtrack of “The Shining.”)

Lin ably guided the orchestra’s percussionists, celesta player Russell Wilson and pianist Daniel Stipe, as well as string sections divided and subdivided on either side of the stage, through Bartók’s complexities. The performance could have been a bit edgier, the music’s tension more overt, but technically it was all but faultless.

The Colombian pianist Eduardo Rojas, featured in Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, would qualify as the star of any other program. His treatment of what ordinarily comes across as a virtuoso warhorse very nearly made it a fitting companion of works as imposing as the Brahms and Bartók.

Pianists can play Liszt as a contemporary of Chopin, exploring nuances of tone and mood, or as a contemporary of Berlioz, reveling in rhetorical bursts and vivid, even garish, colors. Rojas generally took the Chopin route, playing Liszt’s lyrical material with delicacy and flexibilty, while applying the appropriate muscle and amplitude to the concerto’s big pianistic outbursts. He produced the momentum and waves of tone that listeners expect to hear in this showpiece, and illuminated its subtler eddies as well.

His encore, a solo-piano version of Astor Piazzolla’s famous tango “Oblivion,” similarly exposed subtleties of color and expression that too often are missed in this music.

The program repeats at 3 p.m. Nov. 17 at the Carpenter Theatre of Dominion Energy Center, Sixth and Grace streets. Tickets: $10-$82. Details: (800) 514-3849 (ETIX);

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Review: Daniel Hope

with Zurich Chamber Orchestra
Nov. 15, Camp Concert Hall, Modlin Arts Center, University of Richmond

The British violinist Daniel Hope is not affiliated with the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists, being staged in Richmond next spring, and his performance at the University of Richmond was not part of the event, in which UR is one of the sponsors and venues.

Hope’s connection to Menuhin is more personal: As a youngster, he studied and performed with Menuhin. Eleanor Hope, his mother, was Menuhin’s assistant. In this concert, Hope was joined by Switzerland’s Zurich Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble long associated with Menuhin, in a program paying tribute to the old master, sampling a 3½-century range of repertory, from J.S. Bach and Antonio Vivaldi to Philip Glass and Arvo Pärt.

The program’s opening selection, Bach’s Concerto in D minor, BWV 1043, for two violins, strings and bass continuo, was recorded in 1932 by the teenaged Menuhin with his teacher, George Enescu, today remembered as a composer, but in his time a prominent violinist. This performance, with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra’s leader (concertmaster), Willi Zimmermann, joining Hope in the lead duo, clearly echoed the 87-year-old recording, with meaty, romanticized sonority and phrasing quite unlike the “historically informed” style of Bach performance today. The prominence of the orchestra’s lower strings thickened the sound texture so much that the continuo (rhythms) of the piece dominated through much of the performance.

A similar texture prevailed in Vivaldi’s Double Concerto in A minor, RV 522 (from the collection “L’estro armonico”), enhancing the melody of its slow movement and, gratifyingly, not sapping the energy of its feverishly energetic finale.

The interpretative stance of Hope and the sound of the 21-piece string orchestra, which he has served as music director since 2016, were much better suited to the Violin Concerto in D minor of the 12-year-old Felix Mendelssohn, a string orchestration of Béla Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” and contemporary pieces by Pärt, Glass and the Lebanese-French composer Bechara El-Khoury.

Mendelssohn’s youthful works often echo Bach as clearly as they anticipate their composer’s later romantic style, and Hope and the orchestra struck that stylistic balance adeptly, the violinist emphaszing the lyricism of the solo part and the orchestra playing with a crispness and transparency of texture that had eluded the players in the Bach concerto.

Their rich, robust collective tone was applied to fine effect in Bartók’s short suite of six dances, and in their accompaniment of Hope in El-Khoury’s “Unfinished Journey,” an homage to Menuhin introduced in 2009 (its title borrowed from that of Menuhin’s autobiography). El-Khoury’s rhapsodic work, audibly reflecting the composer’s Arab-Levantine roots, is remarkably similar in mood and effect to Ernest Bloch’s Hebrew rhapsody “Schelomo.” In time, I suspect audiences may often hear them paired in concert programs.

Pärt’s “Darf ich” (“May I”) and Glass’ “Echorus” were written for Menuhin and his protégé, violinist Edna Mitchell, and first performed by them in the 1990s. Both are brief and characteristic of their composers’ styles – the Pärt austere and contemplative, the Glass driven by a simple chord progression over a syncopated rhythm. Hope and the Zurichers gave fluently stylish accounts of both works.

* * *

This was the second concert I’ve heard since the acoustical renovation of Camp Concert Hall in the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center, and the first of an orchestral performance. If the Zurich ensemble’s sound typifies that of massed strings in this space, this hall could a tricky environment. Bass string projection was very strong, while higher-register tones were prone to congestion and a rather glassy quality. The fabric baffles on the side walls were not in use in this concert; employing them could soften those higher registers, but also could make the sound even more bassy.

Alsop ‘nearing the end’ in Baltimore

Marin Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director who in September conducted the season-opening concerts of the Richmond Symphony (where she was associate conductor in the 1980s), sounds decidedly like she’s on the outs with Baltimore Symphony management and ready to leave the orchestra she has led since 2007.

“I’m nearing the end of my tenure here,” Alsop said during a session with a group seeking to stabilize the financially troubled orchestra. “I find this is a difficult institution to get air time in because we don’t talk about the art first. Nobody ever talks to me. Barely.”

Alsop, whose current Baltimore contract expires in 2021, said the orchestra has not exploited opportunities to fully develop artistic initiatives or expand its audience, The Baltimore Sun’s Mary Carole McCauley reports:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bs-fe-bso-alsop-speaks-out-20191113-4wcfkcjsazfsphtppvqwkuiwae-story.html