by Michael Caruso
My week of concerts included three events of different character on the surface but with equally similar pleasures. Russian émigré pianist Vladimir Feltsman gave a solo recital Wednesday night at the Kimmel Center that included two Sonatas by Haydn and four Ballades by Chopin. The Philadelphia Orchestra welcomed a young Englishman to its podium and played music by Beethoven and Sibelius on Saturday night. Then on Sunday afternoon, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill expanded its reach as the region’s leading venue for period instruments by presenting a Delaware-based baroque ensemble that was giving the world premiere of a score written by a Philadelphia composer.
Melomanie, which makes its home in Wilmington, has carved out a special niche for itself among period instruments ensembles by regularly pairing music written centuries ago with contemporary scores. Philadelphia’s Kile Smith has similarly made a reputation for himself by composing new music for older instruments. His “Epiphany Vespers,” composed in 2008 for Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, and The Crossing, received a reprise rendition the previous Sunday afternoon, Jan. 8, in the very same Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church that was the site for the world premiere of his dance suite, “The Nobility of Women.”
“The Nobility of Women” — the name is taken from a baroque dance manual — is scored for all six players on baroque instruments and is divided into eight movements. It all comes together to offer concisely pointed character sketches of baroque dances. Melomanie gave “The Nobility of Women” a sterling reading.
The remainder of the program included Telemann’s “Quartet in G major,” Couperin’s “Quatorzieme Concert in D minor” and Boismortier’s “Suite in D minor.” All were played with consummate technical polish and stylish interpretive conviction.
AT THE KIMMEL
When Vladimir Feltsman finally made it out of the former Soviet Union in the 1970s, the pianist’s arrival in the West was greeted with great hoopla. Musicians of an earlier generation or two, such as Gilels and Richter, chose not to flee Soviet oppression. For Feltsman, the indignities were too much to bear. But Russia’s loss turned out to be America’s gain when Feltsman settled in this country.
His Wednesday evening recital in the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater, presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, featured Haydn’s “Piano Sonatas in E minor and E-flat major” in its first half and Chopin’s “Ballades No. 1 in G minor, No. 2 in F major, No. 3 in A-flat major and No. 4 in F minor” after intermission. Together the six works beautifully balanced Haydn’s expert classicism with Chopin’s dramatic romanticism as well as assured the audience that Feltsman is an interpreter at home in both styles.
The marvel of Feltsman’s renditions of the two Haydn Sonatas was his ability to employ the full spectrum of color and volume of the Perelman’s stunning Steinway concert grand to deliver the composer’s total mastery of the classical form he invented. Feltsman is not one of those contemporary automatons whose playing is note-perfect but spiritually bankrupt. He is an artist who works in sound, highly colored yet bracingly clear, to project the heart and soul of the music. His recital was not so much a musical event as a religious experience.
London-born Robin Ticciati made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut this past weekend with a series of three concerts heard in Verizon Hall. He was joined by Arabella Steinbacher in Beethoven’s “Violin Concerto in D major” and then led the Philadelphians in one of the late Eugene Ormandy’s great staples, Sibelius’ “Symphony No. 2 in D major.” Saturday night’s concert drew a full house that heard and hopefully appreciated the unquestioned improvements on Verizon’s acoustics. They may not yet rival those of Boston’s Symphony Hall or New York’s Carnegie Hall, but they’ve far surpassed merely adequate and are fast approaching excellent.