Aspen 2: Three Nights of Chamber Music—One with Breathtaking Hadelich


United StatesUnited States Stravinsky, R. Strauss, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Brahms, Telemann, Paganini, David Lang, Bach, Ysayë: Soloists, Harris Hall, Aspen, CO. 5-7.7.2016. (HS)

Chamber Music With Robert Chen (violin), Harris Hall, 5 July

Stravinsky: Histoire du Soldat (Trio version)

Michael Rosinek (clarinet), Tengku Irfan (piano)

R Strauss/Rudolf Leopold: Metamorphosen for String Septet

Jeremias Sergiani Velásquez (violin), Sabina Thatcher, Joseph Peterson (violas), Darrett Adkins, Gabriel Marins (cellos), Edgar Meyer (bass)

Takács Quartet, Harris Hall, 6 July

Edward Dusinberre, Charles Wetherbee (violins), Geraldine Walther (viola), András Fejér (cello), Joaquin Valdepeñas (clarinet)

Beethoven: String Quartet in G major, Op. 18 No. 2
Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 3 in F major
Brahms: Clarinet Quintet in B minor

Augustin Hadelich (violin), Harris Hall, 7 July

Telemann: Fantasie No. 2 in G major; Fantasie No. 7 in E-flat major
Paganini: Caprice No. 6 in G minor; Caprice No. 19 in E-flat major

David Lang: from mystery sonatas

J.S. Bach: Partita No. 3 for unaccompanied violin in E major
Ysayë: Sonata for unaccompanied violin in E minor

This has been a good week for strings at the Aspen Music Festival. The pinnacle was reached Thursday evening in Harris Hall with violinist Augustin Hadelich’s breathtaking solo recital.

Wielding a 1723 Stradivarius, Hadelich deployed jaw-dropping technique, lustrous tone, and his trademark sensitivity on works spanning four centuries. He began with two Telemann fantasies (18th century) and two Paganini caprices (19th), the more impressive being the ones from each composer in E-flat major, finger-busting exercises in trilling on double stops (playing two notes at the same time), made into compelling music.

Representing our current century, Hadelich played five wispy excerpts from David Lang’s mystery sonatas, stretches of delicate minimalism emphasizing simplicity and restraint.

The highlights, though, were pieces by the two great masters of writing for unaccompanied violin: J.S. Bach, who pretty much invented the genre, and Eugène Ysaÿe, the Belgian virtuoso who showed how to translate it into the 20th century.

The Prelude of Bach’s Partita No. 3 rocketed out of the gate with brilliant passagework and rich sound that made the Strad feel like a whole orchestra. Through the entire work he made the violin’s sound dance, as if on a cushion of pulsing air. Especially fine were the Loure, with its gently thrumming quarter-notes supporting a simultaneous spinning legato of a graceful tune, and the Gigue finale, with rapid-fire florid energy and refined articulation.

Ysaÿe’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin No. 4, dedicated to Fritz Kreisler, makes passing references to Bach’s gestures but stands on a 20th-century platform of melodic and harmonic twists, coupled with instrumental effects that have developed over the centuries. Hadelich relished the whistling harmonics, which combine with rich counterpoint and chordal completeness that exceeds even Bach’s. It made for a thrilling finale. To cool things down, Hadelich’s encore offered a gently swaying Andante from the Unaccompanied Sonata No. 2.

On an earlier concert, Joaquin Valdepeñas, recently appointed resident conductor of the Royal Conservatory Orchestra at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto, wove his fluid clarinet tone, expressive range, and refined articulation into the Takács Quartet’s unified sound for Brahms’ dark-hued Clarinet Quintet in B minor. It made a strong finish for the quartet’s annual recital here.

Valdepeñas’ florid gypsy cadenzas in the Adagio seemed to expand with each iteration, and the interplay—his high register with the violins and the low register with the viola and cello—fit smoothly. The result was 35 minutes of rich harmonies accented with splendid articulation of Brahms’ trademark polyphony.

For this program, Charles Wetherbee stepped in for regular second violinist Karoly Schranz. A recent appointee to the music staff at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where the Takács makes its home, Wetherbee is a regular member of the Carpe Diem String Quartet.

It wasn’t his fault that the opening Beethoven String Quartet Op. 18 No. 3 took a while to gets its feet under it, but the ensemble came together seamlessly for a searing account of Shostakovich’s Third. The music’s sharp turns, from insouciance to a sense of impending catastrophe, came through vividly, with a unanimity of approach and tremendous focus.

When violinist Daniel Hope canceled his chamber music evening, the festival turned to its artist faculty. Robert Chen, usually concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was in town to lead the Festival Orchestra, and stepped in for a crisp, biting highlights of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat (arranged for piano, violin and clarinet) and a mesmerizing rendering of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen for string septet.

Though Hope was missed, this was terrific musicmaking. Chen beautifully articulated the edgy violin line that represents the soldier’s soul in the devil’s hands. Michael Rusinek (principal clarinetist of the Pittsburgh Symphony) brought jaunty style and precision to the the part that the composer wrote for his patron, the clarinetist Werner Reinhart of Winterthur. And Tengku Irfan fulfilled the piano role with élan. The jagged music created its own sonic world.

Until recently, it was thought that Metamorphosen was originally written for string orchestra, but in 1990 scholars discovered a septet version that Strauss had apparently written first. A group of faculty and students spun out the long legato lines with warmth and flair. Aside from Chen’s liquid expressiveness, cellist Darrett Adkins (who also teaches at Juilliard and Oberlin) and his student sidekick, Gabriel Martins, made the strongest impressions. Edgar Meyer represented luxury casting on bass.

Harvey Steiman

Leave a Comment