Review: Hadelich does it all in a wide-ranging virtual recital |

Review: Hadelich does it all in a wide-ranging virtual recital

Harvey Steiman
Special to The Aspen Times

Aspen Music Festival wrapped up its virtual season with an extraordinary recital from the violinist Augustin Hadelich on Sunday afternoon. He not only dazzled with technical brilliance and plenty of feeling but, through the magic of modern digital wizardry, also accompanied himself on an electric piano.

That last attribute prompted a thought from festival CEO Alan Fletcher in his brief introduction that this “could only happen in a virtual festival like this.”

Against a white background in a room with live acoustics, unobtrusive camera work and smart lighting gave viewers glimpses of Hadelich’s every nuance. Medium shots and closeups of hands on fingerboard framed his expressive face, which often reflected what was coaxing from the music. The recital was shot in a single take, and Hadelich spoke briefly, directly to the camera between the pieces, all of which felt remarkably like sitting in a front row seat for the recital.

For the two pieces involving the piano, a prerecorded corner picture-in-picture showed him at a spinet-size electric piano. Though neither piece required keyboard virtuosity, Hadelich’s playing provided a comfortably synchronized underpinning that emphasized the violin.

The soft piano harmonies of Rachmaninoff’s sweetly lyrical Vocalise framed the violin’s sustained melodic line as Hadelich unfurled it like a long silky scarf. If he lacked of flair a solo pianist, the piano reduction of the orchestra’s part in Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy supported the virtuosic riffs on Bizet’s beloved tunes with the sort of unanimity of rhythm and style that otherwise must come from years of collaboration with another human.

This also was our first time to hear Hadelich play the Guarnieri instrument recently loaned to him. Hadelich seems to have taken quickly to the robust-sounding fiddle, which once belonged to the legendary Henryk Szeryng. Fiendishly difficult passages emerged with clarity and precision. Dynamics shifted with deftness, softer moments caressed notes to produce a heartbreakingly beautiful sound, and an eye-opening array of special effects kept this listener in awe. This is a heck of a fiddle (and fiddler).

The main dishes of this menu came at the start, when he began with J.S. Bach’s 18th-century Partita No. 3 for Unaccompanied Violin in E major and followed with Ysaÿe’s 20th-century Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin in A minor, which elaborates on familiar melodic strands from that same Bach partita.

The prelude opened at a breakneck tempo, though Hadelich used the traditional Baroque bow to shape it with subtle differences in attack and contrasts in dynamics. The Loure moved with grace and elegance. Hadelich seemed to be half-dancing with the rhythms of the famous Gavotte in Rondeau, which sprang from the violin with remarkable presence (along with a winning smile). The pair of minuets lilted rhythmically, and if his speedy approach to the Bourée lost a bit of Bach’s wit, the Gigue finished things up with panache.

Introducing the Ysaÿe sonata Hadelich puzzled over its mixture of Bach and the Dies Irae tune, which shows up as a sort of “idée fixe” in all four movements. Most effective was the Poco Lento second movement, played with gorgeous richness despite the muted sound, the final slow statement of the Dies Irae fading away hauntingly. There were moments in the Sarabande that felt like Celtic fiddling, and the Allegro Furioso finale whizzed by brilliantly.

The Rachmaninoff came next, followed by African-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain’s Jimi Hendrix-inspired “Filter.” The unaccompanied piece (from 1991) combines traditionally virtuosic violin gestures, such as runs, curlicues, and pizzicato interjections, with sounds that eerily mimicked electric guitar distortions by running the bow up against the instrument’s bridge. Hadelich caught the style of the bluesy ostinatos nicely.

Finishing up with “Carmen” made for a delicious dessert. The much-loved tunes from Bizet’s opera got florid treatments from the 19th-century violin virtuoso and composer Pablo Sarasate. By accompanying himself on piano, the touches of rubato and final exuberant accelerations of the Gypsy dance came off with perfect synchronization, an uplifting finish.

The recital repeats once Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the Virtual Stage at the festival’s website or on its YouTube channel.

Hadelich’s sparkling recital stands as one of the highlights of a strong series of Sunday afternoon concerts, all of them involving artists familiar to regular festival. Streamed free on the festival’s website, Facebook page and YouTube channel, these hour-long solo and chamber music performances offered a virtual alternative to the most-attended concerts of the regular season, the Sunday afternoon concerts by the Festival Orchestra.

Large ensembles are only possible these days by using complex digital gymnastics to stitch together individual contributions from musicians in their living rooms and dens. These can be fun, but artistic results are limited by the technology.

Pianists tackled big works, including Daniil Trifonov (J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue, streamed on July 19), Behzod Abduraimov (Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Aug. 2) and Andreas Haefliger (Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata, Aug. 16). Other string players excelled too, including recitals of Beethoven sonatas from violinist James Ehnes (July 12) and cellist Alisa Weilerstein with pianist Inon Barnatan (July 26), and an all-Ives treasure from violinist Stefan Jackiw with pianist Jeremy Denk (Aug. 9).

Streamed from locations around the U.S. and Europe, these performances were mostly done specifically for the festival and performed the same day (or at least the same week). The exception was Haefliger’s, which was made for an upcoming film, but the festival got to show the world premiere of the music.

The physical settings ranged from Abduraimov in Aspen’s Harris Hall to Haefliger in the charming Uri Theatre in Switzerland. Trifonov and Hadelich worked from their respective homes, others in performance spaces in Steinway Hall in New York, the La La Jolla Festival in California and the Seattle Center for Chamber Music.

Though free, the concerts felt short at an hour, and allowed only one other chance to catch each one on a Tuesday evening rebroadcast. How many more ears might have discovered Aspen Music Festival’s magic if these concerts had been available on demand, as most arts organizations have been doing? That’s a discussion for another day. It might end being moot if the pandemic recedes enough to let us gather in Harris Hall or the Benedict Music Tent in real time together in 2021.

Harvey Steiman has been writing about the Aspen Music Festival since the early 1990s. This is his last review of the 2020 season.

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