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Reviews

Your monthly critical round-up of performances, recordings and publications

New York

Inspired moments of fantasy from Vilde Frang PAGE 88

12 Ensemble: reimagining ‘Death and the Maiden’ PAGE 90

Ysaye splendidly played by Noe Inui PAGE 92

KEVIN CONDON

THE CRYPT SESSIONS: SALON SEANCE FOR BENJAMIN BRITTEN

CHURCH OF THE INTERCESSION 4 DECEMBER 2019

Six extremely talented performers came together to present a unique all-Britten programme on the anniversary of the composer’s death at the Crypt Sessions. Britten’s String Quartet no.1 was performed with dramatic interludes between the movements featuring an actor who read excerpts from Britten’s letters and engaged the quartet members in a dialogue (with Britten’s ‘spirit’) which was illuminating - though a little strange. ‘How do you live in a broken world?’ served as the theme of evening; the performance seemed to offer the answer: ‘music’.

The acoustics enhanced the intensity of Britten’s First String Quartet, though at times the texture was too thick and individual lines were not differentiated enough; Emilie-Anne Gendron’s marvellous and lyrical playing in the second movement did not come out as much as I would have liked. Overall the performance was characterised by terrific individual playing, but the ensemble was not always well balanced. The viola solos by Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu were moving standouts in the third movement: each was well-paced and elegantly realised.

Selections from Britten’s op.6 Suite for violin and piano followed. Violinist Mari Lee performed double- and quadruple-stops with panache and even elegance, and she created haunting and powerfully lyrical phrases despite the technical difficulty of the piece. Her double-stopped semiquaver runs were extremely impressive.

Britten’s Second String Quartet concluded the performance (also with dramatic interludes), and the first movement in particular was extremely beautiful and compellingly played. The third movement was well structured and Mihai Marica’s cello cadenza was impressive. Lee’s first violin cadenza was stunningly well-played and led to an intense and powerful ending.

To browse through more than a decade of The Strad ‘s recording reviews, visit www.thestrad.com/reviews

CAROLIN WIDMANN (VIOLIN) ORPHEUS CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

92ND STREET Y 7 DECEMBER 2019

It takes guts to make a New York debut with off-the-radar repertoire, but the Leipzig-based violinist Carolin Widmann is apparently fearless. With the renowned (and still conductor-free) Orpheus ensemble, she cruised through Kurt Weill’s Concerto for Violin and Wind Orchestra with enviable confidence and aplomb. Alongside a superb contingent of winds and percussion, the four double basses deserve mention: Gregg August, Jordan Frazier, John-Paul Norpoth and Sam Suggs.

In the opening, over percolating clarinets and a snare drum, Widmann was the epitome of fluidity, with dazzling passagework and a lustrous, silken tone. In the central movements (which display some insouciance, despite the monikers ‘Notturno’ and ‘Serenata’), her 1782 Guadagnini was at its glowing best in a duet with marimba. Especially appealing was Widmann’s forcefully audible pizzicato in a duet with the flute. And the languorous cadenza gave no indication of the bubbly, volcanic mix of whimsy and barbarism to come, which bring this striking concerto to its close.

Earlier in the evening came Johann Wendt’s sparkling, surprisingly effective arrangement of the overture to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, with eight winds and one hard-working double bass player, Gregg August. And the night concluded with a handsomely conceived - and marvellously played - version of the composer’s classic Serenade for Winds no.10, the ‘Gran Partita’.

BRUCE HODGES

SHEKU KANNEH-MASON (CELLO) SATA KANNEH-MASON (PIANO)

WEILL RECITAL HALL 11 DECEMBER 2019

In conversation with the man sitting next to me in Weill Recital Hall, he revealed that he had flown in from Chicago that very morning and would be flying back immediately after the concert. Yes, his ‘day trip’ was solely to hear Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason, in their sold-out recital.

Nothing pleases me more than to report that the acclaim for this cellist is justified. In Rachmaninoffs Cello Sonata, the opening was filled with the same crisp spiccatos that made appearances all night, and carefully modulated dynamic levels. The demonic second movement was appropriately nimble, with a soaring trio section.

In the third movement, the long lines were handled with the assurance of a master storyteller, helped by the bloom of the cellist’s c.1610 Brothers Amati. And the finale had both pizzazz and restraint, coupled with instinctively right pacing.

The impressive evening began with Beethoven’s Variations on ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’ op.66, with Isata almost outshining her brother in personality. Lutoslawski’s Grave (1981), laced with frenzied, free-wheeling fantasy, stood aloft in icy contrast. And Barber’s Cello Sonata (1932) showed the duo at their most articulate and persuasive, as brother and sister figuratively leapfrogged for honours. If some might have been surprised that there was no encore, it was clear that the cellist and pianist had given their all to the demanding menu.

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About The Strad

We explore the life of viola pedagogue Karen Tuttle and investigate the potential for Chinese tonewood. Augustin Hadelich takes us through Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in Masterclass and we examine Pablo Casals’s approach to vibrato. Plus Leonidas Kavakos’s Sentimental Work