by Michael Caruso
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, hosted its first of “Five Fridays: Concerts for the Community” last Friday, Oct. 26. The featured performer was pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine, one of Astral Artists’ brightest young stars.
The Russian-born Moutouzkine’s program opened with Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 21 in C major” (“Waldstein”), then continued with “Four Etudes” by Alexandre Scriabin and Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9” and closed with Heinemeyer’s “Traviata Fantasy,” in which he was joined by his brother, Ivan.
Alexandre Moutouzkine’s rendition of the Beethoven was both exquisite and powerful. The young pianist balanced the theatricality of the first movement against the lyricism of the second and the rippling delicacy of the third with imagination and conviction.
Moutouzkine’s renditions of Scriabin’s “Etudes” reminded the impressively large audience of how unfairly neglected this late Russian romantic’s music is in current recital programming. I wouldn’t wish the elimination of a single score from any program by Scriabin’s more popular contemporary, Sergei Rachmaninoff, but I do wish Scriabin’s works would join those of Rachmaninoff more frequently.
The Liszt may, indeed, be rather tawdry as serious music goes, but the great Hungarian virtuoso certainly knew how to make the piano sound like an orchestra, and his young Russian-born heir met all of the composer’s requirements Friday night.
The next Friday night recital at St. Paul’s Church features the Dali Quartet on Nov. 16 at 7:30 p.m. Visit www.fivefridays.org for more information.
The Academy of Vocal Arts will open its season of fully staged operatic productions this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with the first of three downtown and then two Main Line performances of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.” Philadelphia’s all-scholarship school, devoted exclusively to the training of singers, launches its season on the heels of countless students winning international competitions and signing contracts to appear in all of the world’s leading opera houses. Its productions truly offer a rare “look and hear” into the future of the opera world.
East Falls’ Kevin McDowell, AVA’s president and artistic director, mentioned that Opera News included five recent AVA alumni as among the nation’s most promising opera singers, and all four of the most recent winners of the Richard Tucker Award are also AVA grads.
But McDowell wasn’t wasting time looking backwards. Rather, he’s focused on AVA’s renovation of the townhouse at 1916 Spruce. It joins the original building at 1920 and the townhouse in the middle at 1918 to form a trio of historic Victorian structures in the heart of center city.
“The three buildings represent three generations of women who have been the mainstays of support for AVA,” he explained. “AVA’s home at 1920 Spruce St. is named after Helen Corning Warden. 1918 Spruce is named after her daughter, Adele Warden Paxson, and the newly acquired 1916 Spruce honors her daughter, Sally Paxson Davis.”
Performances of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” are set for Nov. 3, 8 and 10, 7:30 p.m., in the Warden Theater, 1920 Spruce St., and Nov. 13 and 15, 7:30 p.m., in the Haverford School’s Centennial Hall, 450 Lancaster Ave., in Haverford. Call 215-735-1685 or visit www.avaopera.org.
Fresh from his triumph with Verdi’s “Requiem” Mass in Carnegie Hall, Yannick Nezet-Seguin continued his first season as the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new music director with a trio of concerts last weekend in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. The program featured the commissioned world premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Concertino Cusqueno,” Bernstein’s “Serenade” for solo violin, strings, harp and percussion, and Brahms’ “Symphony No. 4.”
Two seminal traits characterized Nezet-Seguin’s interpretation of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony that set it apart from readings familiar to most Philadelphians. I’ve heard Ormandy, Muti, Sawallisch and Eschenbach lead performances of the four Brahms symphonies, and I’m sure there are members of the orchestra’s audiences who go back even further than I do and who recall renditions conducted by Leopold Stokowski.
What struck me most powerfully about Nezet-Seguin’s interpretation was its ability to synthesize all those aspects of the Brahms Fourth to produce a reading that was superbly based on the composer’s own mastery of both the classical developmental forms inherited from Beethoven and the exquisite lyricism bequeathed by Schubert.
Local favorite Joshua Bell gave a dramatic reading to Bernstein’s “Serenade.” The Curtis Institute alumnus’ score covers the gamut of modern and popular styles, and Bell’s sumptuous tone and energized phrasing reminded me of just how marvelous a composer Bernstein was and how fabulous a violinist Bell remains.