United States Aspen Music Festival (12): Aspen Percussion Ensemble, Jonathan Haas (conductor); Juho Pohjonen (piano); Aspen Philharmonic, Stefan Jackiw (violin), James Feddeck (conductor); Alisa Weilerstein (cello); Inon Barnatan (piano). Harris Hall, Benedict Music Tent, Aspen, Colorado. 4-7.8.2014 (HS)
Percussion Ensemble, August 4
Jonathan Haas, conductor
Joseph Pereira: …tied to the past
Michael Udow: Abyss of Time
John Harbison: Cortège
Peter Schickele: Percussion Sonata No. 1, “Aspen”
Recital, August 5
Juho Pohjonen , piano
Grieg: Ballade in Form von Variationen über eine norwegische Melodie, op. 24
Brahms: Four Ballades, op. 10
Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G minor, op. 23
Chopin: Ballade No. 2 in F major, op. 38
Chopin: Ballade No. 3 in A-flat major, op. 47
Chopin: Ballade No. 4 in F minor, op. 52
Aspen Philharmonic, August 6
Benedict Music Tent
James Feddeck, conductor
Stefan Jackiw, violin
John Adams: Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor
Brahms: Symphony No. 1
Recital, August 6
Alisa Weilerstein, cello
Britten: Tema “Sacher”
Osvaldo Golijov: Omaramor
J. S. Bach: Suite No. 3 for Unaccompanied Cello in C major, BWV 1009
Kodaly: Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, op. 8
Recital August 7
Inon Barnatan, piano
J. S. Bach: Toccata in E minor
Matthias Pintscher: whirling tissue of light (U. S. Premiere)
Schubert: Piano Sonata in G major, D. 894
Franck: Prélude, choral, et fugue, M. 21
Barber: Piano Sonata, op. 26
This was a good week for encores at the Aspen Music Festival. Soloists of the caliber of violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Juho Pohjonen may have fallen a tad short of their best in their main programs, but the lagniappes at the end sure were memorable.
Jackiw in particular captured four-and-a-half minutes of serenity and grace Wednesday evening in the Music Tent with his breathtaking traversal of the Largo from J.S. Bach’s E Major Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin. It followed a Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 in which conductor James Feddeck let the Philharmonic orchestra step on too many portions of his beautifully and sensitively rendered solo part.
Weilerstein also chose a Bach slow movement for her encore in Wednesday night’s solo recital. She repeated the Sarabande from J.S.’s Suite No. 3, from the first half of her program, playing with even more intimate delicacy and warmth.
For his encore Tuesday night Pohjonen took a detour into the Baroque from an often heavy-handed recital of Romantic ballades, mining the ornate world of Couperin for a lovely and lavishly ornamented “L’exquise.”
The winner in the recital sweepstakes this week, pianist Inon Barnatan, topped off an exciting and well-constructed program Thursday in Harris Hall with Mendelssohn’s Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, focusing on contrasts between the sweet introductory melody and stormy finish, and relishing all the stops along the way. The lilt of the rondo theme echoed many similar moments in the Schubert Piano Sonata in G major, which concluded the first half of the program. Barnatan dispatched these phrases with flair and a sly grin, and, as he did in the encore, emphasized Schubert’s shifting style as it slipped from major to minor and soft to fiery.
He opened with J.S. Bach’s Toccata in E minor, played with a winning resiliency and clarity. The contrapuntal piece presaged the fugues that conclude both works on the second half of the program. Franck’s Prélude, choral, et fugue reflects that composer’s many years as a church organist. Barnatan played it with staunch vigor, building to a big climax as the chorale segued into the fugue. Barber’s Piano Sonata, written for Vladimir Horowitz, bristles with energy and makes virtuosic demands. Barnatan corralled its fast-moving jazzy syncopations and spiky melodic lines well, and finished with a brilliant presentation of Barber’s modern stainless-steel construction of a fugue.
Matthias Pintscher’s whirling tissue of light was written for Barnatan and co-commissioned by the Aspen Music Festival, the Concertgebouw and Wigmore Hall in London, where he gave the premiere last fall. Coruscating swirls of notes sweep by, pool into occasional eddies and go from an enchanting, softly dissonant mist to harsher splashes. As expertly played as it was, it will take several hearings for its sense to come through for me.
Wednesday marked the second time in two weeks that a noted soloist provided one of the week’s highlights on the midweek orchestra concert. Concertgoers who can’t make it through a doubleheader often choose a star soloist recital at 8:30 p.m. over the all-student orchestra’s 6 p.m. program. If they did on this occasion, they missed Augustin Hadelich’s brilliant work in the Sibelius Violin Concerto last week and Jackiw’s triumph on Wednesday.
The Prokofiev is a delicious work, juxtaposing long, lyrical lines by the soloist against chugging rhythms in the orchestra. It all worked best in the glorious Andante Assai, where the violin’s melodic line can wander uninhibited against quiet pizzicatos in the orchestra. The energy of the outer movements sometimes got a little too enthusiastic and Jackiw’s slender tone got lost.
The concert opened with a vigorous and bracing rendition of Short Ride in a Fast Machine, John Adams’ extravagant fanfare that plays against an incessant wood block to great effect. This festival programs far too few of Adams’ brilliant music, the ebullience of which would have fit perfectly into the summer’s theme of New Romantics.
Weilerstein’s program of unaccompanied cello works looked like a compelling idea, but in performance it presented some unexpected road blocks. Most startling was the pairing of Britten’s short and unrelentingly harsh Tema “Sacher” with Osvaldo Golijov’s Omaramor, which detours through some scratchy moments of its own before getting to the passionate Carlos Gardel tango tune it’s built around.
The centerpiece, Bach’s Suite No. 3 for Unaccompanied Cello in C major, started off a bit rough in the Prelude but the second movement Allemande finally settled into a lovely groove and richer sound. The final three movements were gripping for their delicacy; the Sarabande sang, the Bourée bounced and the Gigue was positively giddy. The best moments of Kodály’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, which occupied the second half, came when the composer let the folk melodies spin out. The connective tissue often seemed to grate.
Judging by post-concert chatter Tuesday night in Harris Hall, pianist Juho Pohjonen polarized his audience. Some were deliriously happy with his gung-ho approach to ballades by Grieg, Brahms and Chopin. Others, myself included, were mystified.
As I understand it a ballade is musical poetry, told in the abstract language of notes, chords and rhythm. The youthful-looking 33-year-old Finlander treated these pieces as invitations to show how fast he could blaze through them. Where was the poetry? The four Chopin ballades, especially, hardly paused for breath. The faster, more dramatic sections made a wash of sound that often collapsed in a tumble rather than sparkling with energy and detail. I doubt Chopin would have approved.
The Grieg was much better. Puhjonen applied a variety of color as each variation unfolded, often with some tenderness. His dry-eyed approach to the four Brahms ballades avoided sentimentality but found little depth to compensate. The Baroque encore wove the complex ornamentation through Couperin’s L’exquise with ease.
The highlight of the annual Percussion Ensemble concert Monday was Peter Schickele’s Sonata for Percussion No. 1, “Aspen,” written in 1996 when the composer (better known as his alter ego, P.D.Q. Bach) was in residence here. Its charming 13 minutes featured jaunty tunes played on mallet instruments. Bells added vim to the sonic colors of delicately applied drums and tinkly percussion.As usual the ensemble, conducted by Jonathan Haas, impressed with its musical chops, not just the ability to execute the notes but make real music out of them. This was apparent from the opening measures of Varèse’s percussion classic, , which found much more depth than a simple drum assault. The shifting colors of Michael Udow’s melded nicely with artist Rita Blitt’s 25-minute film of the same name, which featured the artist’s splashy, daubed paintings and Udow’s photography. Percussion solo award winner Carly Yanuck, on tympani, relished the rhythmic complexity of Elliott Carter’s , the solo work more digestible without the composer’s often harrowing harmonic palette.
As usual the ensemble, conducted by Jonathan Haas, impressed with its musical chops, not just the ability to execute the notes but make real music out of them. This was apparent from the opening measures of Varèse’s percussion classic, Ionisation, which found much more depth than a simple drum assault. The shifting colors of Michael Udow’s Abyss of Time melded nicely with artist Rita Blitt’s 25-minute film of the same name, which featured the artist’s splashy, daubed paintings and Udow’s photography. Percussion solo award winner Carly Yanuck, on tympani, relished the rhythmic complexity of Elliott Carter’s Canaries, the solo work more digestible without the composer’s often harrowing harmonic palette.