Aspen (8): Musical Detours: From the Renaissance to Prokofiev, From Ives via Piazzola


United StatesUnited States Schumann, Skryabin, Chen, Prokofiev, Needham, Fuchs, Stoltzer Nathan, Piazzola, Ives, Sweney, Lowry, Barthélemon, Root, Kialamark: Soloists, Aspen Festival Orchestra, William Kurnhardt (conductor), Harris Hall, Aspen, CO. 26-28.7.2016. (HS)

Harris Hall, 25 July – Héctor Del Curto Quintet

Recital, Harris Hall, 26 July – Vadym Kholodenko (piano)

Schumann: Nachstücke, op. 23; Humoresque in B-flat major, op. 20
Skryabin: 24 Preludes, op. 11; Fantasie in B minor, op. 28

Aspen Philharmonic Orchestra, Harris Hall, 27 July – Adele Anthony (violin), George Jackson (conductor)

Weijun Chen: Dancer (world premiere)
Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 1

Harris Hall, 27 July – American Brass Quintet

Needham: Brass Quintet No. 1 “Circus”
Mase (ed.): Three Venetian Canzoni
Fuchs: Brass Quintet No. 2 “American” (world premiere)
Stoltzer: Three Fantasias in Church Modes (c. 1500)
Nathan: Missing Words II (world premiere)
Higgins, Powell (eds.): Music From Renaissance Venice
with Anima Brass Quintet

Special Event: Viva Piazzolla!, Harris Hall, 28 July – Sarah Chang (piano), Héctor Del Curto (bandoneon), William Kurnhardt (conductor)

Piazzola: Bandoneon Concerto
Piazzola/Desyatnikov: The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

Recital, Harris Hall, 28 July – Jeremy Denk (piano), Stefan Jackiw (violin), Jason Berger (tenor), Timothy Langan (tenor), Jack Chandler (baritone), Maxwell Seifert (bass)

Ives: Violin Sonata No. 4
Sweney: Beulah Land
Lowry: I Need Thee Every Hour
Ives: Violin Sonata No. 3
Barthélemon: Autumn (Mighty God, While Angels Bless Thee)
Ives: Violin Sonata No. 2
Root: Shining Shore; Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!
Kialamark: The Old Oaken Bucket
Ives: Violin Sonata No. 1

The restless mind and passionate pianism of Jeremy Denk, the sleek silvery sound and hair-trigger responsiveness of violinist Stefan Jackiw and the unique music of American’s first rugged individualist composer, Charles Ives, make a potent brew. Thursday night’s recital of Ives’ four violin sonatas in Harris Hall delivered an unforgettable evening.

Denk and Jackiw toured New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere with this program last fall, to great acclaim. Their unanimity of approach and locked-in articulation was palpable, bringing a welcome expansiveness to Ives’ sometimes rocky musical gestures. The emphasis was on nostalgia, aided by a quartet of male singers from the Aspen Opera Center who demonstrated some of the 19th-century hymns and popular songs that Ives used as core material.

In these sonatas the composer worked the tunes into moments of unabashed humanity, alternately serene and heartbreakingly beautiful, or messy and raucous. Jackiw’s singing tone and willingness to crash into harmonic walls paid dividends against Denk’s earnest and playful piano. It was all-encompassing, as much a feast for the mind as for the heart and the ear.

On Tuesday, pianist Vadim Kholodenko played a very different sort of recital, centered on a couple of early works from the turn-of-the-20th-century Russian Alexander Skryabin. By a wide margin the highlight was his 24 Preludes, each miniature with its own color, shape and style through Kholodenko’s thorough command of tone, legato, tempo and dynamics. The concluding Fantasie in B minor showed broad, expressive pianism.

The opening work, Schumann’s Humoreske in B-flat major, contains few chuckles despite its title. Its series of short episodes segue from one  reflection to another, most of them melancholy, and Kholodenko drew out the differences in color with subtlety. Schumann’s Nachtstücke are essentially nocturnes, but spooky. These four short works are not dreamy, gossamer night scenes like Chopin’s. At some level they call to mind Bartók’s “night music” movements, but with less dissonance. The playing caught that spirit. The encore, a Chopin nocturne, cooled things off and displayed some of Kholodenko’s most beautiful tone-making.

The American Brass Quintet’s annual recital Wednesday in Harris Hall included two world premieres among its usual mix of Renaissance and contemporary works. Kenneth Fuchs’ Brass Quintet No. 2 “American” lit a fire under the players’ virtuosity, with rapidly moving, colorful and delightfully accessible writing that never flagged. It was so good I wished they had played the entire 12 minutes over again. Eric Nathan’s Missing Words II went more for wit, with music inspired by invented German words. The best of the three parts was Brillenbrillanz,” (“glasses brilliance”), which in this case refers to the sudden feeling of bright focus when trying on a new pair of glasses. Each player removes one tuning tube from his instrument, creating an out-of-focus sound to contrast with the clarity of a whole trumpet or trombone. The result ventured beyond its single effect, while the other two parts did not.

The quintet’s mellow and rich playing on the “old” music of Gabrieli, Stolzer and others of the Renaissance contrasted nicely, and with the virtuosic fun of the opener, Clint Needham’s Brass Quintet No. 1 “Circus.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Adele Anthony trotted amiably through Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the all-student Aspen Philharmonic under conductor George Jackson. She played with lovely tone and clean articulation, but didn’t make much of it. The program also included a world premiere by Weijun Chen, who won the 2015 Jacob Druckman prize for the best student work. In its nine minutes Dancer explored resonant harmonies and sonorities, and reflected fine command of orchestration and form.

Two arresting and rewarding concerts paid homage to the brilliant and highly original jazz-influenced tango composer Astor Piazzolla. On Monday, the Héctor Del Curto Quintet unfurled soulful and exciting sounds, with Del Curto on the bandoneón, the square accordion-like instrument that harnesses the sound of tango. These musicians speak the language, literally, and rendered this music with authenticity and power.

At a special Thursday event titled “Viva Piazzolla!”, violinist Sarah Chang brought appropriate flair, thrust and stylishness to the composer’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. Although her technique deserted her occasionally, she amply reflected the wit and flavor of this music, impressively supported by a mostly student ad hoc orchestra led by concertmaster David Coucheron of the Atlanta Symphony and conductor William Kunhardt. (Special kudos to cellist Jennifer Yunyoung Choi’s soulful aching solos.)

For his part, Curto ably pushed against the bounds of the classical form in Piazzolla’s Concerto for Bandoneon to make the piece thrilling, but the highlight was Curto’s encore, in which he rode the driving rhythms of the composer’s masterpiece “Libertango.” Chang also did an encore, revisiting the famous rapid-fire closing movement of “Summer” in that other, perhaps more famous “Four Seasons.”

Harvey Steiman

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