Aspen Music Festival (9): Barnatan, McDuffie Spice Up The Week

07/08/2017

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Aspen Music Festival [9] – Chopin, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Beethoven, J.S. Bach, Handel, Rameau, Couperin, Ravel, Adès, Ligeti, Barber, Brahms, Ward/David Mallamud, Glass, Tsontakis: Soloists. Harris Hall, Aspen, CO. 31.7, 2 & 3.8.2017. (HS)

Chamber music, Harris Hall, 31 July

Chopin — Cello Sonata in G minor, op. 65, Darrett Adkins (cello), Ann Schein (piano)
Castelnuovo-Tedesco — Sonata for Violin and Cello, op. 148 (world premiere), Adele Anthony (violin), Brinton Smith (cello)
Beethoven — Piano Trio in B-flat major “Archduke”,    David Coucheron (violin), Darrett Adkins (cello), Inon Barnatan (piano)

Recital, Harris Hall, 2 August
Inon Barnatan (piano)

J.S. Bach — Toccata in E minor, BWV 914
Handel — Allemande from Suite No. 5 in E major, HWV 430
Rameau — Courante from Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin
Couperin — L’Atalante from Second livre de pièces de clavecin
Ravel — Rigaudon from Le tombeau de Couperin
Adès — Variations for Blanca
Ligeti — Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi
Barber — Fugue from Piano Sonata, op. 26
Brahms — Variations and Fugue on a Theme by G. F. Handel in B-flat major, op. 24

Recital, Harris Hall 3 August
Robert McDuffie (violin), Elizabeth Pridgeon (piano)

Ward/David Mallamud — America the Beautiful
Glass — from Violin Concerto No. 2, “The American Four Seasons”; from Violin
Concerto No. 1 (1987)
Tsontakis — Dust
Brahms — String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, op. 18 [with Aubree Oliverson (violin), Chihiro Tanaka and Alaina Rea (violas), Richard Narroway and Guilherme Nardalli Monegatto (cellos)]

Those who may have experienced difficulty hearing Inon Barnatan against the orchestra in Sunday’s concert should have been there Monday and Wednesday in Harris Hall. Barnatan anchored a splendid performance of Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio, and returned two days later for a unique and rewarding recital.

Monday’s chamber music concert, which has to rank among the best of them, started with Chopin’s Cello Sonata in G minor. It was nice to see Ann Schein on the Harris Hall stage after a year’s absence, playing Chopin with her husband Earl Carlyss (a former member of the Julliard Quartet) turning pages for her. Darrett Adkins was the cellist, weaving around and through the composer’s pianistic flourishes, making a satisfying opener.

Cellist Brinton Smith and violinist Adele Anthony followed with a piece that righted forgotten history: nearly 50 years after the composer’s death, the world premiere of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata for Violin and Cello. Having fled fascist Italy in the 1930s, the composer ended up writing film scores for MGM, and while in Hollywood befriended Jascha Heifitz and cellist Gregor Piatagorsky. Smith speculates that this duo was written for them, but never played.

In a classically framed form, the deftly crafted sonata creates a range of unique sounds, including long arcs of lyrical melody. A sequence of pizzicato chords sounds much richer than two string instruments should be able to produce.

Barnatan, Adkins, and violinist David Coucheron, concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony, topped that with Beethoven’s “Archduke” Piano Trio. Barnatan set the music in motion with fleet playing, plus superb balance of sound and style with the other instruments, not to mention crazy-fast tempos in the finale. It was thrilling stuff.

The pianist’s own recital Wednesday reprised an idea he debuted last year at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival: compiling single movements by disparate composers from Bach to Adès, the individual excerpts inspired by Baroque counterpoint and dance, the building blocks of a Baroque suite.

The meat of the suite, if you will, lay in the more “modern” takes, especially Ravel’s energetic and colorful Rigaudon from Le tombeau de Couperin (which followed the short L’Atlante by the actual Couperin) and Ligeti’s fascinating and virtuosic Omaggio a Girolamo Frescobaldi, from Musica ricercata. The fugue-on-steroids finale of Barber’s Piano Sonata brought the suite to a dynamic conclusion.

Barnatan seemed much more comfortable in this unchained music than in the more rigorous Baroque works at the start. He differentiated Bach from Handel nicely, and Thomas Adès’s Variations for Bianca contrasted just as well with the Ravel and Ligeti pieces that surrounded it.

Infused with Barnatan’s energy, Brahms’ towering Variations and Fugue on a Theme by G. F. Handel finished the program in an expansive Romantic mode, suggesting how Baroque ideas stimulated later composers.

Baroque music inspired Philip Glass’ second violin concerto, subtitled “The American Four Seasons,” a direct reflection of Vivaldi’s familiar classic. In his recital Thursday in Harris Hall violinist Robert McDuffie used the unaccompanied prologue and “songs” with which Glass separated movements as a centerpiece of a first-half sequence, which he introduced with a similarly unaccompanied deconstruction of America the Beautiful.

Pianist Elizabeth Pridgeon then entered with the vigorously rhythmic introduction to the finale of Glass’ first violin concerto, setting up a virtuoso violin filigree from McDuffie. It was a dramatic way to start a concert. McDuffie, a longtime festival favorite, delivered rhythmic and dynamic prowess, marred by some wince-inducing intonation issues.

McDuffie concluded the first half with music of another figure long associated with this festival, George Tsontakis, whose 1998 Dust (for violin, piano and horn) channels Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. Notable for the work of hornist Kevin Rivard (who fulfills principal roles in the San Francisco Opera and Ballet orchestras), the craggy piece seemed out of place in this otherwise resolutely consonant concert.

The second half consisted of Brahms’ String Sextet No. 1, with McDuffie occupying the second violin chair surrounded by gifted students. First violin Aubree Oliverson and cellist Richard Narroway led a spirited performance, vivid in dynamics and the occasional moment of detail, despite recurring intonation issues in the second violin.

Harvey Steiman

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