by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum presented violist Roberto Diaz and violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen in recital Sunday afternoon, Dec. 15. In a program that ranged in the repertoire from Johann Sebastian Bach through Mozart in the 18th century, then into the 20th with Fritz Kreisler and Paul Hindemith, then combining both through Johan Halvorsen’s fantasy on a work by Handel, the husband-and-wife duo presented playing of great beauty.
The recital’s most compelling performance was heard during its second half, when Diaz (president & director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia) played Hindemith’s “Sonata for Solo Viola.” Set in six movements, it’s a mostly austere work of craggy harmonies and angular melodies with rare but telling moments of lyricism. Diaz caught the mood of all six movements. He varied the color of the viola’s tone from violin-like brightness to cello-like resonance, shaped every phrase with both intensity and delicacy, employed a widely differentiated vibrato and called on the broadest imaginable range of dynamics.
When Diaz gave up the position of principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, many of us who deeply admired his playing despaired of its loss to Philadelphia audiences. A hearty “thanks” to Woodmere Art Museum for bringing Diaz to the concert stage again, if only for one afternoon. And here’s a suggestion for the museum’s administration: Why not invite graduating Curtis students to repeat their graduation recitals in performances on Sunday afternoons at Woodmere? The arrangement would give the young musicians a second run-through of their programs while at the same time providing local classical music lovers with a glimpse into the future careers of budding virtuosos.
Diaz and Koljonen joined forces to open the recital with Mozart’s “Duo in G major for Violin & Viola.” The pair established, sustained and expanded on the composer’s brilliant setting of competing yet complementing soprano and tenor voices, singing operatically while delving developmentally in perfect tandem.
Koljonen opted for a dynamic range too loud for Bach’s “Partita No. 2 in D minor” but struck a more stylistically appropriate voice for Kreisler’s “Recitativo & Scherzo for Violin Solo.” She and Diaz gave a riveting rendition of the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia to close the recital.
Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, will present “Driving the Cold Away” Saturday, Dec. 28, 8 p.m., in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. The program features a host of 16th century scores of the holiday season, many of which have been arranged for Piffaro by members of the ensemble.
Explained co-director Robert Wiemken, “At the point of the darkest time of the year, when daylight hours give way quickly to night in northern climes, cultures both ancient and modern pay tribute to this turning of the seasons with a myriad of customs and traditions. In ancient times, the months to follow were called ‘the famine months,’ when survival was a major concern. Much of the livestock were slaughtered so that they would not have to be fed during the bleak period; thus an abundance of fresh meat was there for the taking. The wine and beer made earlier in the season had finished its fermentation and was ready for consumption. It seemed, therefore, not only a time for a final celebration before the period of darkness, but also a plea to the forces of nature to assure the return of the light. It’s not surprising to note that the religious holidays of both Christmas and Hanukah were assigned to this time of the year, both celebrating light and rebirth.
“Piffaro’s program celebrates numerous aspects of the season, from dancing to feasting, worshipping to merrymaking. It includes music from England and France, as well as that of the Sephardim, those Jews expelled from Spain at the end of the 15th century whose wanderings took them across most of Europe in the following centuries.”
For ticket information, call 215-235-8469 or visit www.piffaro.org.
David Kim, the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 1999, was the soloist with the ensemble in two works by Tchaikovsky Dec. 12, 13 and 14 in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. With associate conductor Cristian Macelaru on the podium in place of the indisposed Pablo Heras-Casado, Kim was heard in the “Serenade melancolique” and the “Valse-scherzo for violin & orchestra.” The latter was receiving its first performances by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Kim played both by memory, an impressive feat for an orchestral musician.
Both the “Serenade melancolique” and the “Valse-scherzo” seem to have been extracted from a scene out of either a ballet or an opera. Kim caught the well-named melancholy of the “Serenade.” He employed a broad range of dynamics and sustained a forceful intensity, even during the softest phrases.
Kim has admirably maintained the tradition of the orchestra’s concertmaster performing less-frequently-heard parts of the repertoire for violin & orchestra. I found myself hoping that the next time around he might offer a performance of Miklos Rozsa’s “Violin Concerto.” While we occasionally hear the Violin Concerto of fellow Hollywood composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, I’ve never heard Rozsa’s in concert. Hearing it here in Philadelphia would be a welcome treat.