Aspen 3: Astounding Hadelich, Superb Takács, and a “Da Capo” with Mixed Results

United StatesUnited States Aspen Music Festival (3): Beethoven, Alan Fletcher, Franck, Magnard, Mozart, R. Strauss, Vaughan Williams: Soloists, Aspen Chamber Symphony and Festival Orchestra, Takács Quartet, Robert Spano and Christian Arming (conductors), Aspen, Colorado. 10-12.7.2015 (HS)

Aspen Chamber Symphony, July 10
Benedict Music Tent
Robert Spano (Conductor)Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (Piano)

Alan Fletcher: On a winter’s night a traveler (world premiere)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor

Chamber Music, July 11
Harris Hall

Francisco Coll: Liquid Symmetries (U.S. Premiere)
Vaughan Williams: Songs of Travel
Magnard: Quintet in D Minor, Op. 8


Takács Quartet, July 11
Harris Hall
James Dunham (Viola)
Anton Nel (Piano)

Mozart: String Quintet in G Minor, K. 516
Franck: Piano Quintet in F Minor


Aspen Festival Orchestra, July 12
Benedict Music Tent
Christian Arming (Conductor)
Augustin Hadelich (Violin)

Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30

Once or twice a summer at the Aspen Music Festival, a trio of soloist, conductor and orchestra transcends human limits and gets to the heart of a great concerto. Sunday afternoon in the Benedict Music Tent, violinist Augustin Hadelich, conductor Christian Arming and the Aspen Festival Orchestra found the thread in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major and wove it into a glorious tapestry.

Hadelich shaped phrases like a sculptor in a fragile medium, gently laying them into place. He found pinpoint intonation everywhere in the violin’s range, and full tone in the quietest of passages. His total command of technique reached full expression without pushing. With utter refinement, he generated excitement with the panache of his playing rather than displays of power.

Arming was right there with him, infusing the orchestra with buoyancy to match Hadelich’s rhythmic sense. The orchestra’s opening pages  pulsed gently, allowing Hadelich to ease into his entrance as if he were sneaking up, waiting for his turn at Beethoven’s themes. For the first movement’s climactic cadenza, Hadelich chose Fritz Kreisler’s, which features intricate interweaving of the tunes and double- and triple-stops to expand the texture.

The slow movement felt contemplative until the violin’s perfect trill ushered in the bouncy finale. Here Hadelich and Arming brought things to a satisfying close not by flash or histrionics but by seamlessly letting the rhythmic momentum gather.

Then came a jaw-dropping encore. It’s one thing to play all the notes right in the 400-meter dash of Paganini’s Caprice No. 5. It’s quite another to make it seem effortless. (Hadelich will be back July 30 for a recital with pianist Joyce Yang in a delicious-looking program in Harris Hall.)

In the second half of the program, power and fluidity characterized a muscular Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. The brass covered itself in glory, from the bright climaxes of the opening fanfare to the trombones’ quiet chords near the end. Principal trumpet Karin Bliznik injected exposed solos with precision. The strings did most of the heavy lifting, though, especially the nine-person bass section’s articulation of the famous canon. And timpanist David Herbert added extra “oomph” every time he had an exposed moment.

Saturday night in Harris Hall the Takács Quartet teamed up with some of the talent on the Aspen Music Festival and School’s faculty. Violist James Dunham added extra richness in a delicious swing through Mozart’s String Quintet in G Minor, and pianist Anton Nel alternated between finesse and power in  Franck’s broad-shouldered Piano Quintet in F minor. Both musicians easily slipped into the quartet’s frame of mind, capturing the elegance of Mozart and the symphonic breadth of Franck.

In the Mozart quintet, the pulsing of Dunham and the quartet’s violist, Geraldine Walther, underlined wistful phrasing by first violinist Edward Dusinberre. From the beginning, delicacy of articulation from all hands drew natural emotional character. The slow movement’s scudding clouds of harmony felt like a long intake of breath, before the finale worked its way from despair to a sunny, triumphant finish.

Franck’s piece removes the seat belts and gives flight to some of the richest, most expansive writing a string quartet might play. The muscular statements the strings pose at the outset brought tender responses from Nel’s piano, setting up powerful sequences—one climax after another. The slow movement’s tunes slipped from instrument to instrument, a marvel of passing the ball deftly, and the finale exploded into stormy moments interrupted only by the briefest pauses to catch a breath.

Friday’s Aspen Chamber Symphony program was more of a mixed bag. The concert opened with festival president Alan Fletcher’s new composition, “On a winter’s night a traveler,” which was repeated after intermission with an accompanying film by Bill Morrison. In a long introduction, Fletcher and music director Robert Spano said this was intended to give audiences two different experiences.

The music offered moments of quiet sonic beauty, linked by a short transitional figure, something like the promenade in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The individual sections in Fletcher’s piece evaporate before they land, however, and without resolution the music seemed to wander about uncertainly. The film showed things unrolling in antique black-and-white clips, splotched to look damaged. It did not enhance the music.

All this extended the concert 20 minutes past the standard two hours, unfortunately dispersing a significant portion of the audience before the final work, Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Spano conducted a solid performance, short on precision but nicely paced.

The Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4, sandwiched between the two iterations of the premiere, began with an utterly magical opening: starting alone, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet wafted in like vapor condensing. Unfortunately, this sense of reticence robbed some of the juice of the rest of the music. Even the slow movement glided past with little of the expected tension and release.

Bavouzet returned the next afternoon to join faculty artists Nadine Asin (flute), Elaine Douvas (oboe), Burt Hara (clarinet) and Nancy Goeres (bassoon) in a pleasant but utterly forgettable quintet by Albéric Magnard, a close contemporary of Vincent d’Indy. They all played with their usual presence and precision.

The highlight of that program was “Songs of Travel,” based on poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, with music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Bass-baritone Geoffrey Hahn, a recent alum of Columbia University, brought gravitas and warmth to the words and music, rooted in Vaughan Williams’ English countryside style. Accompanied by Elizabeth Bucchieri on piano, the songs reflected on a man’s confrontation with the immutability of nature.

Harvey Steiman

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