Mélomanie members Christof Richter (violin) and Tracy Richardson (harpsichord) combined their talents to showcase the versatility of the violin in a program that featured works by the well-know, the not-so-well-known and the downright quirky. The concert, called 'Up Close & Personal: The Violin,' took place on Saturday, September 30, at Old Town Hall in downtown Wilmington.
Despite the role it plays in the modern orchestra and the repertoire that’s grown up around it, the violin was considered a “low-brow” instrument, played largely from memory throughout the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. But once written music appeared, the violin became a major driver in the development of instrumental music as a whole.
Saturday’s performance opened with a performance of Johann Paul von Westhoff’s Partita 6 in D Major for solo violin. Unlike his contemporary Heinrich Biber, little attention has been paid to von Westhoff. But lesser-known hardly means insignificant. In fact, it is very likely that von Westhoff met J.S. Bach during their time in Weimar, and that these Partitas were a direct inspiration for Bach to compose his sonatas and partitas for solo violin.
Richter performed with a natural and effortless charm, concluding with an exhilarating reading of the Gigue.
Heinrich Biber — von Westhoff’s more famous contemporary — was represented with a performance of Sonata 4 in D Minor (The Presentation) from his Rosary Sonatas. This ever-intriguing work is the finest example of Biber’s exploration of scordatura, alternate tunings of the violin strings that produce otherworldly sonic textures and performance challenges. The Presentation is a chaconne and variations tuned to D minor. Tuning the top string down a step and the bottom string up one produced an alto-like quality, where one would expect soprano brilliance. Richter’s execution of these blazing virtuosic variations was breathtaking, making the listener long for a full performance of this work.
The Italian Baroque was represented by Biagio Marini’s Romanesca Variations and Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in G Minor (The Devil’s Trill). “Romanesca” is actually a song form popular in the period 1550-1650, characterized by a sequence of four chords which form the groundwork for improvisation (think: Greensleeves). The work consists of four variations and two dances, the gagliarda and corrente. Richter and Richardson took a spirited approach with regard to tempo and meter long before the dance variations impose triple meter toward the end.
Richter imbued Tartini’s Sonata with the appropriate pyrotechnics: delicate turns and swift runs, dark moods, commanding multiple stops and double-note trills. And while the work can be performed solo, the inclusion of the continuo added depth and harmonic texture.
Richter and Richardson made a fine duo in Mozart’s Sonata in G Major (KV 301). Richter’s intonation is always exact and his articulation in the fastest passages clear and precise. These sterling qualities were matched by Richardson’s accompaniment on harpsichord, which she notes was still in use alongside the up-and-coming fortepiano during this time.
No Mélomanie concert would be complete without some contemporary offerings. In an afternoon of surprises, there were some pretty interesting choices. Schnittke’s Suite in Old Style is a wry nod to the Baroque — actually a pre-Classical-style pastiche of movements drawn from the composer’s film scores. Unlike a true Baroque suite, though, there is little for the soloist to show-off. Richter brought a fragile delicacy to the final movement, Pantomime, the only movement performed in this program.
Richter and Richardson offered yet another interesting piece from a most marginalized 20th Century composer, Josef Matthias Hauer. Hauer’s claim to fame (or infamy) is that he developed his own 12-tone system, publishing his findings in 1919 slightly ahead of rival Schoenberg. But whereas Schoenberg manipulated tone rows, Hauer based his atonality on systematically organized chords.
Toward the end of his life, Hauer wrote a collection of short (the longest runs five minutes) pieces called Zwolftonspiel, literally 12-tone games. Richter and Richardson collaborated on the one dated 26 August, 1948. This music is a welcome respite from the angular tones of Schoenberg’s serialism, and Richter and Richardson captured its joy and playfulness in this very capable rendering.