After his unforgettable solo recital on Wednesday, violinist Augustin Hadelich returned on Sunday for the last concert of the Aspen Music Festival. Good thing too. His performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 gave those who missed the recital a taste of what all the excitement was all about.
Every phrase had meaning, even in a piece of relentless beauty like this, whether it was a touching hue for a slow melody, a subtle melody for a rhythmic gesture, or a virtuosity. total that said something more than “look what I can do.” “It can do anything, but it integrates it into an organic whole that can envelop a listener in all of its subtleties.
Music director Robert Spano led and thankfully kept the dynamics of the orchestra below the violin, only letting the orchestra tear itself apart when it was alone. Few concerto performances have reached such a standard this season, and it was especially welcome with someone like Hadelich.
As a reminder, Hadelich had his violin imitate a mandolin or a guitar on “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”, written by Francisco Tarrega for guitar. Ruggiero Ricci’s delicate arrangement is a marvel in perpetual motion, keeping musical lines moving back and forth, tremolos and trills handled flawlessly, all without exceeding the mezzo-piano volume. It was spellbinding.
A beautiful interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 can raise the rafters. The performance, which concluded the program, did not. It was not bad. Everyone played in tune. They were together. A few horn pompoms didn’t spoil anything important. Spano’s tempos were good. But it never gelled. He just sailed, without any particular inspiration.
On Saturday night, however, Aspen Opera Theater’s production of Handel’s “Rodelinda” showed what real inspiration can do.
This season’s voice program featured impressive talent, the best collection of young voices of my 28 summers here, although COVID considerations limited the number to 15. Instead of the usual multiple shows from each of the three operas at the Wheeler Opera. House, we had a performance each of the two semi-stage concerts – July’s “Magic Flute” in the Musical Tent and this past weekend’s gem at Harris Hall.
The half-full audience that showed up were willing to ignore any idea that Baroque operas are dry compared to, oh, say, Mozart, Puccini or Verdi. Attentive opera lovers could hear in this score the seeds of dramatic vocal gestures that spiced up the music of later eras. They were rewarded with juicy tunes and scenes, delivered by eight young singers with real acting chops and a grip on the emotions they had to portray.
The projected titles, another victim of COVID protocols, led to drafting soprano Sarah Vatour (Queen of the Night in “Magic Flute”) as the narrator to provide enough complex plot summary to set the scenes . Music is what really matters. The main character’s two opening arias, sung by Chilean soprano Yaritya Veltz, set the bar high. Veltz and countertenor Key’mon Murrah carried the ball the most, with over half a dozen arias and scenes each in the 90-minute abridged production. They sang at a level that would benefit any great opera house.
Veltz’s lush and focused tone conveyed a palpable feeling of a queen of Lombardy who thinks she has been widowed by usurper Grimoaldo. Murrah, as Bertarido, the vanquished king, made a remarkably vivid dramatic arc, from the first stealth scenes seeking to reunite with her family at a time that combined triumph and mercy, and sounding highs that would make a dramatic soprano proud. In two duets, their voices intertwine sinuous with breathtaking beauty.
During his series of arias and scenes as Grimoaldo, tenor Ricardo Garcia traced a descending arc from brash to remorse, vocalizing with brilliant tenor sound and passion. As Garibaldo, his intriguing companion, bass William Guanbo Su connected well with the other singers in his stages and delivered impressive bass notes.
Mezzo-sopranos Lauren Decker provided a rugged tone and steely intensity as Bertarido’s sister Eduige and Erin Wagner conveyed childish awkwardness as Unulfo, a kind of two-way spy to the good. heart. Australian soprano Yvette Keong (Papagena in the “Flute”) returned as a child of Rodelinda, in this staging of a mime role.
Director Omer Ben Seadia developed a clear intention for each character and created a series of touching scenes. She went beyond the limits of the opera-concert with a few chairs, a desk and a toy boat. A chessboard-shaped floor defined the rooms and gave the characters something to use as a maze and ultimately tear up as the complicated plot reached its climax.
Conductor Kenneth Merrill – who has been a coach since 1980 in vocal programs at Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music and Aspen – has assembled a tight-knit and often propulsive team: the singers, pianist Manuel Arellano (playing the music of the orchestra), a continuo by Sahar Nouri on harpsichord and Ethan Cobb on cello (all young artists).
The Chamber Orchestra’s final concert on Friday saw the Aspen debut of English cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, whose unique star quality has as much to do with his ability to connect with audiences as his accomplishments as a cellist. Even though conductor Christian Arming allowed the orchestra to master him, Kanneh-Mason’s robust sound and solid technique were noticeable in Dvořák’s cello concerto.
His passionate attention to the orchestra’s long exposure in the first movement and lively facial expressions as he performed went a long way in making this connection. Even better was his encore, an entirely pizzicato arrangement of “I Say a Little Prayer for You,” written in 1966 by Burt Bacharach and Hal David for Dionne Warwick, and later popularized by Aretha Franklin. Not your usual classic reminder but representative of Kanneh-Mason’s rare ability to cross genre boundaries.
A graceful but uneventful interpretation of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony followed.
Harvey Steiman has been writing on the Aspen Music Festival for 28 years.