When I walked into the Recital Hall in the Redstone campus at UVM last Friday evening for a concert by Peter Sykes, fortepiano , I was totally unfamiliar with the instrument, in the sense that I had never heard one in live recital. By the time Sykes had completed his pre-concert talk about the incident, I had become very well-equipped to understand the place of this instrument in the history of Western music, and to appreciate the music Sykes had programmed to aid the audience to hear what the hysterical music sounded like on this instrument. The whole evening was educational without being didactic and musically delightful. Sykes knows what he's doing.
A descendent not of the harpsichord, but of the clavichord , and capable of great dynamic changes without necessarily ever overriding even at its loudest forte an instrumental soloist or vocal soloist. The volume panel is restricted by the diameter of the strings and the general size of the total instrument.
Sykes programmed music by CPE Bach, Haydn and Beethoven acquainting us with the music of the former composer and his place in the history of the development of music in the West and reacquainting us with the music of the two latter composers. It was an evening during which my appreciation for the burgeoning classical period achieved a perspective that heretofore was absent from my knowledge bank.
Throughout the evening Sykes played impeccably, and with a sense of the music he had selected that rose to the highest peaks of musicianship. The music was both instructive and delightful. From the opening Sonata in C. minor by CPE Bach to the closing measures of his encore, a bagatelle, Sykes shone like the musical star he is, giving as not only an effective foray into the history of music, one that provided also a highly musical glimpse of the importance of CPE Bach, as well as a wonderfully exciting evening of music from the classical period.
I should add that Sykes replaced the indisposed Andreas Staier, fortepiano, with only nine days notice, a feat in its own right.
On Saturday evening October 24, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra under the baton of its Music Director and principal conductor, Jaime Laredo,continued its celebration of its 75th anniversary with a concert that featured violinist Soovin Kim playing the Sibelius violin Concerto that he had been scheduled to play in 2008, but which playing had been rendered impossible by the loss of electricity at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. As Kim reminded the audience during the pre-concert talk, it was about 7:15 PM when the lights went out, and they should not count their chickens before that hour had safely come and gone.
The delay of two years in hearing Kim's playing of the Sibelius violin concerto was more than compensated for by the ardor and strength of his performance. He has almost miraculous technique at his fingertips and he uses that technique in the service of his musical understanding that is second to none. Even though for several small moments I felt a lack of continuity between the soloist and the orchestral accompaniment, it was a remarkable reading of the score, filled with vigor and passion and, where applicable, grace and elegance, all played with a mastery of the concerto that is seldom heard. The first movement in particular can seem very disjunct, very pasted-together, making the score a veritable mares nest of difficult violinist perils. All of those Kim took care of by his very posture on the stage, one of great strength flowing up out of the earth, like a well-rounded singer, who draws sustenance from the earth below his feet. I had missed the postponed concert, but I was more than happy to have been present last night too heard this remarkable young violinist do such justice to one of the masterpieces of the violin repertoire.
The opening work of the evening was by composer David Ludwig, entitled 'Radiance', a piece of about eight minutes duration for oboe soloist -- in this case the artist is principal although, Nancy Dimock. It is a mood piece, and without the composer's attribution of the mood to the languor of summer, it could easily have been about a number of other subjects, all of which would have reasonably had the same effects. The scoring is appropriate to the concept, and the total effect of the work is soothing and well-composed, as have been all of the work by Ludwig. Dimock's playing of the solo part fitted beautifully both in the concept and into the texture of the accompanying orchestra. The oboe sets the mood for the piece from its first note and Dimock accomplished that and a great deal more, making the piece the winner that it is.
The program close with Robert Schumann's Symphony number No. 3 in E. flat major, Op. 97subtitled the 'Rhenish'. This work, unlike the Sibelius, is a very compact set of five movements, each of which seems textbook quality, while the truth of the matter is that within strict forms, Schumann created a masterpiece that both in its sole and in its parts reflect not only technical wisdom but great inspiration. The playing by the orchestra under Jaime Laredo was lively and full-bodied, and the orchestra -- especially the French horns -- made an incomparable sound that was so unified that it was hard to realize exactly what the scoring was that any single moment. Laredo obviously cares deeply about this piece of music, and this is what shone through with a clear, searching light.
You orchestra's celebration of its 75th year has been well begun.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for The Eagle. His column appears weekly.