Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Palooza of Piano Performance at the Music School

By Christine Facciolo

The Music School of Delaware showcased its pianistic talents on November 18 with a concert titled— aptly enough — “PianoPalooza.”

The evening also served to honor faculty members with 20 or more years of service to the School. Artists on this program celebrating that milestone included David Brown (48 years), Donna DeLaurentis (30+ years) and Hiroko Yamazaki (23 years).

Also taking the stage Wednesday night were Jennifer Nicole Campbell, Dr. Oleg Maslov, Liliya Maslov and rising star Douglas Nie, a 10th grader at Wilmington Friends School who studies piano with David Brown.

DeLaurentis and Yamazaki opened the program with a performance of Robert Schumann’s Pictures from the East (Bilder aus Osten) composed in 1848. This is an engaging set of variations on a theme in six consecutive vignettes that share a strong internal infrastructure. This is not a piece one hears often, but DeLaurentis and Yamazaki made a strong case for it with a reading that was full-bodied in sound yet dramatically sublime.

David Brown offered works by Beethoven, Brahms and Brown, apologizing to Mr. Bach for the apparent slight. Brown gave a clean and well-articulated reading of Beethoven’s Seven Variations on God Save the Queen, the British national anthem. Most impressive was his ability to make the melody “come alive” while bringing out the secondary notes in the left hand.

Brahms described the intermezzi of Op. 117 as “three cradle songs for my sorrows,” and Brown is brilliant as he brings out the inventiveness and sublime lyricism of the third Intermezzo in C-sharp minor with an ease that belies its technical difficulty.

Brown kicked things up several notches with a performance of his Rondo Fantasia, a piece of rapidly changing moods and wild arpeggios.

Dr. Oleg Maslov’s prodigious gifts allowed him to excel in the pyrotechnics of Liszt’s two concert etudes: La Leggierezza and Waldesrauschen. The former — Liszt’s most Chopin-esque work — was played with a feverish ardor while one could hear the rustling of the trees in the piano work of the latter.

Douglas Nie took the stage following intermission, capably demonstrating why he has earned the reputation of the School’s “rising star.” The fifteen-year-old offered works by Griffes (Lake at Evening) and Rachmaninoff (Polichinelle). Lake at Evening is not an easy piece to play without getting excessively Romantic. But Nie’s judicious reading conjured up all the exotic imagery suggested by the title, filling the concert hall with mystery. By contrast, his performance of Rachmaninoff was appealing and passionately Romantic, marked by a technical fluency beyond his years.

Jennifer Campbell’s superior technique and interpretation was most evident in her performance of Chopin’s Ballade in G minor — one of the most difficult of the repertoire. Her attack was strong from the first bold chords and built to a series of climactic arpeggios that brought the haunting central melody to life.

Dr. Oleg and Liliya Maslov explored the rich diversity of sound possible with two pianos. Both pianists executed the virtuosic figurations of Ravel’s La Valse with ease. As the waltz continued, becoming jarring and almost barbarous in intensity, Dr. Maslov took the lead, steering the frenzied dance through sudden, impulsive spasms. The duo succeeded in adding a thunderous splendor to the sensuous theme. Equally impressive was Liliya Maslov’s ability to turn her own pages while in the throes of this thrilling performance.

See www.musicschoolofdelaware.org.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Music School Kicks Off Alumni Concerts with Noted Philadelphia Musician

Violinist Barbara Govatos and pianist Marcantonio Barone
By Christine Facciolo
The Music School of Delaware spotlighted one of its most talented and accomplished alumni when violinist Barbara Govatos and duo partner pianist Marcantonio Barone took the stage to perform a concert of Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms.

It’s a rare treat to hear Govatos solo in such an intimate — and familiar — setting. Normally she’s either concertizing as first violinist with The Philadelphia Orchestra (where she holds the Wilson H. and Barbara B. Taylor Chair) or collaborating with other talented instrumentalists as music director of the Delaware Chamber Music Festival.

Govatos is known for her well-curated programs, and this concert did not disappoint.

The first half opened with Beethoven’s chirpy Sonata No.2 in A Major and closed with Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, a virtuosic work of complex and contrasting moods. The optimism of this half contrasted well with the fury of Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3 in d-minor in the second half.

What is remarkable about Govatos and Barone is their shared sense of musical vision, something that was amply demonstrated throughout the concert. The duo reveled in the good-natured bantering that characterized the opening movement of the Beethoven work. The antiphonal phrases of the second movement were shaped with a delicacy that invested the music with a sense of peace. The concluding rondo banished this atmosphere, replacing it with one of playfulness. The arpeggios in violin and piano were effortlessly tossed off while Barone offered sparkling accompaniment throughout.

The dominant work of the first half of the concert was Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major. Though less familiar than the composer’s later masterpieces, this single-movement work is just as extraordinary for its telescoping of musical form as the more celebrated Wanderer Fantasy for piano. The music is crammed with notes. More importantly, Schubert uses the music quite carefully to decorate crucial elements in the relationship between violin and piano. The heart of the work is its central set of variations on the tune of a song Schubert wrote in 1821, “Sei mir gegrusst” (“I greet you”). But it is the slow introduction which is recapitulated in the second and fourth movements (and fully in the third) which casts a shadow over the work.

Govatos’ delivery was extraordinary, full of imagination and profound intelligence. It was worth the admission just to hear the way she colored the opening line, reducing her tone to the slenderest thread, minimizing her vibrato and breathing life into the work.

Brahms’s third violin sonata in d-minor concluded the concert, and Govatos and Barone gave it a fiery, gutsy treatment. There was a constant pining in Govatos’ playing during the first movement, as she showed a range of colors — practically screaming at times — but never choking the sound. One indeed got the sense that a weighty statement had just been made and much energy expended.

A blissful Adagio followed; full of emotional joy but not without bursts of passion. The duo sparkled in the sprightly tempo of the Scherzo but the finale was all fire — noble at first but growing more and more manic as it unraveled.

This was an utterly compelling partnership of equals.

See www.musicschoolofdelaware.org. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Assassin: A Gripping Tale of Morality, Choice and Redemption

By Christine Facciolo

You don’t have to be a football fanatic to appreciate the Delaware Theatre Company’s production of Playing the Assassin.

That’s because Playing the Assassin isn’t really about football — per se.

Playing the Assassin by David Robson.
Photo courtesy of Delaware Theatre Company.
Still there’s plenty of up-close body-slamming action in the form of a spirited — and sometimes disturbing — debate about sports ethics, morality, choice, responsibility, family, race and just about anything else the play’s two characters care to toss into one intermission-less act of conversation/altercation.

The work by Wilmington-based playwright David Robson premiered last year at Rockland County, New York’s Penguin Repertory Theatre under the direction of Joe Brancato, who reprises those duties here in Delaware as do other members of his team, including actors Ezra Knight and Garrett Lee Hendricks.

Knight turns in a gripping performance as Frank, a now-retired football legend whose dirty on-the-field tactics earned him the nickname “The Assassin” and who was responsible for inflicting a devastating in-game injury on an opposing player, rendering him paralyzed from the neck down.

The action takes place in a modern yet not-quite-five-star hotel suite in downtown Chicago. Frank has been flown in by a segment producer from CBS Sports for a much-hyped pre-Super Bowl sit-down with the player he injured years ago.

Robson bases the plot on a real-life incident. During a 1978 pre-season game, Oakland Raider Jack Tatum plowed into New England Patriot Darryl Stingley rendering him a quadriplegic. The two men never spoke again. The incident became a symbol of violence in football, tainting Tatum’s legacy right up to his death in 2010. (The incident was prominently displayed in the headline to his obituary.)

Playing the Assassin is the product of Robson’s musings about what might have taken place if the two players had met and attempted a reconciliation.

Hendricks plays Lewis, the suited-up, buttoned-down, eager-to-please (if somewhat green) producer charged with convincing Frank to sign a contract for the no-holds-barred interview which is to include an apology. Lewis seems a bit too interested in the details of the accident, the reason for which comes through later in the play. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between the vainglorious Frank and the persistent Lewis, culminating in a demonstration of Frank’s tackling prowess which turns shockingly violent.

Frank grows increasingly suspicious of Lewis, accusing him of lying about the other party’s willingness to participate in the interview. In the midst of it all, we learn that Frank has written his memoirs which make no mention of the tragic incident that captured international media attention.

Both actors manage worthy and durable performances as their characters evolve through a series of striking revelations and twists of fate that at times seem strained and contrived.

Knight is a standout in the meatier of the two roles. He deftly combines the swagger of his past glory with the stark reality of his diminished physicality and a deep-seated guilt and anger over an incident that has shadowed him and tainted his legacy.

Hicks initially presents Lewis an affable production assistant but gradually blends in a hostility that presages a deep-seated resentment and belligerence.

Robson does not directly address some of the weightier issues facing football today, namely, fan complicity in the glorification of gridiron violence and the league’s failure to prepare players — especially injured players — for life after the big leagues.

But then, Robson didn’t set out to write a play about football. Just a story about two men who at the sound of the two-minute warning need to make a play for redemption before the clock runs out.

Playing The Assassin runs at Delaware Theatre Company through November 8.