Aspen (12): Percussion Tour de Force, Arresting Pianism, and a Buoyant Quartet


United StatesUnited States Bazelon, Pereira, Kabelác, Wahlund, Ginastera, J.S. Bach/Brahms, Liszt, Schubert, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Tsontakis, Beethoven: Soloists, Daniil Trifonov (piano), American String Quartet. Harris Hall, Aspen, CO. 8-10.8.2016. (HS)

Percussion Ensemble Recital, Harris Hall, Aug 8
Bazelon: Bazz Ma Tazz
Pereira: Mallet Quartet
Kabelác: Eight Inventions
Wahlund: Hard-Boiled Capitalism and the Day Mr. Friedman Realized Google is a Verb
Ginastera: Cantata para América mágica

Piano Recital, Harris Hall, Aug 9
Daniil Trifonov (piano)
J.S. Bach/Brahms: Chaconne in D minor for the Left Hand
Liszt: Grandes études de Paganini
Schubert: Sonata No. 18 in G major
Brahms: Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Book 1

American String Quartet, Harris Hall, Aug 10
Peter Winograd (violin), Laurie Carney (violin), Daniel Avshalomov (viola), Wolfram Koessel (cello)
Mendelssohn: String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat major
Tsontakis: String Quartet 7.5 “Maverick”
Beethoven: String Quartet in F major Op. 59 No. 1 ‘Razumovsky’

Daniil Trifoniv has come a long way since the boyish, studious, freshly minted winner of the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition made an Aspen debut in 2013. Now with a long-haired bearded look of a graduate student, he strides to the piano, bows deeply and gets right to business. And some business it is.

From the first notes of Tuesday’s expansive recital in Harris Hall, the music that came out was arresting. He began with Brahms’ left hand-only transcription of the chaconne from J.S. Bach’s D minor partita. If the opening chord clanged off the walls sharply, the intricate passage work, attention to dynamics, phrasing and rhythmic persuasiveness won over a rapt audience over its 15 minutes.

Trifonov’s strengths were evident. Unfazed by technical challenges, he drew big contrasts between muscled-up loud passages and delicate moments that maintained both pulse and musical thread. Dynamics morphed seamlessly, moods shifting like cinematic dissolves. His pace never indulged in show-off speed-ups or extra pauses. He communicated.

In Schubert’s Sonata No. 18, the meditative opening movement lived up to its tempo marking of ‘molto moderato e cantabile’, the pulse beating quietly and unrelentingly under a touch of pure silk in the quieter moments. Things gradually became more insistent in the third-movement menuetto and finally burst into the light with a grand and expressive, quick-paced finale. The music making reached a high plane.

Showier works surrounded that centerpiece. For all the glitzy pianistic flourishes of Liszt’s Grands études de Paganini, the most captivating moment was “La campanella,” an insistent high chime tinkling deftly against flurries of fine-textured rapidity. If the bombastic brashness of Book I of Brahms’ Variations on Theme of Paganini temporarily put subtlety on the shelf, two magical encores by the Russian composer and pianist Nicolai Medtner brought it back. ‘Alla reminiscenza’ from the first series of Forgotten Melodies and ‘Tale in F minor’ from the series of short works known as Fairy Tales were models of expressiveness with disarming simplicity.

Monday’s Percussion Ensemble concert honored several favorite composers of classical musicians who bang on things for a living, bringing their works to life with gusto. Kabelác’s Eight Inventions, from 1962, defined many elements that have become staples of percussion performance. Ginastera’s 1960 Cantata para América mágica married the Argentine composer’s fondness for the raw energy of native South American music with evocative writing for dramatic soprano. In texts inspired by pre-Columbian cultures, Lauren Feider channeled an almost feral impulse into passionate vocal expression. Wild intervals and jagged rhythms brought the concert to a high point, eventually coalescing into a cry for peace.

Percussion’s melodic side emerged in two works: a quartet for two vibraphones and two marimbas by Joseph Pereira, principal timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and teaching this summer in Aspen; and a piece for vibraphone solo by Ben Wahlund, a Chicago-area teacher and composer. The quartet explored percussion’s quiet, subtle side, whereas the solo dealt in contrasts between beauty and hard-edged steel. In a tour de force, soloist Joseph Brickler brought out the deftness in the music.

Thursday night’s American String Quartet recital found the regular visitors to Aspen in good form, especially in a gravity-defying performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 59, No. 1. From the opening statement by cellist Wolfram Koessel to first violinist Peter Winograd’s clear-eyed lead throughout, this was a no-nonsense, focused, buoyant portrayal of one of the composer’s most beloved chamber works. And it wasn’t laden with extra portent, but simply unfurled with fine attention to rhythm by violist Daniel Avshalomov and second violin Laurie Carney.

Buoyancy was in evidence in the opener, Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1, where the festival’s own busy violist James Dunham contributed extra depth. A short but quietly colorful quartet by George Tsontakis, his String Quartet 7.5 ‘Maverick’, completed a tasty evening.

Harvey Steiman

Leave a Comment