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For the Sitkovetky and Friends program heard February 24 in the Recital Hall of the UNC Greensboro School of Music, Dmitry Sitkovetsky chose to feature the chamber music of Beethoven's early period. Joyfully taking up the violin, he was joined by a wide assortment of players from the brass, string, and woodwind sections of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. The concert's lighter fare was a welcome contrast to the February 23 and 25 orchestral concerts, which featured Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto and Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. Since this was the only concert that did not feature a guest soloist, music lovers had a good chance to witness what makes these recitals so very special. Some chamber music series present established touring groups. These usually have high standards, but sometimes the toll of too frequent playing of a limited repertoire shows. An increasing number of orchestras have begun to realize the benefits – for audiences and players – of playing chamber music. More than any such concerts that I have heard, Sitkovetsky's series captures the sparkle of the give-and-take between colleagues in sessions described in the memoirs of Arthur Rubenstein, Gregor Piatigorsky, and others. And few ensembles can boast having their music director, in this case a world-class violinist, beaming at them from either the first or second chair!
Beethoven's Serenade in D, Op. 25, for flute, violin and viola, is a good example of the type of music that 18th-century composers wrote to be played in the home – and of course to make money! In the eras before recordings, if you wanted to hear music, you and your friends had to make it. A degree of skill on an instrument, long part of the education of the upper class, became desirable, too, within the rising middle class that flocked to the new public concerts. This serenade consists of six brief movements, by turns playful or more formal, with a minuet and theme-and-variations set. The latter, found in the fourth movement, finds each player taking his turn as the lead in one of the variations. Debra Reuter-Privetta, the GSO's principal flute, played with beautifully focused intonation, employing a fine array of color and tone while having seemingly limitless breath. While the flute often has the lead, the violin frequently takes up the wind theme and sometimes takes the initiative. The warm sound of Sitkovetsky's violin blended well with the flute while its sonorous tone was welcome when the lead was passed to it. Scott Rawls' deep-toned viola anchored the bass line superbly and maximized the contrast with the brighter colors of the other instruments.
The Septet in E-flat, Op. 20, for strings and winds, was Beethoven's earliest success as a composer. With six movements – it's longer than the Serenade – it is in the tradition of "upscale background" music composed by Haydn and Mozart, among others. To exploit its money-making possibilities, the composer published several versions with varieties of instrumentation. The third movement's music was recycled as the minuet in the Piano Sonata in G. The most prominent parts were shared by Sitkovetsky and the bight-toned clarinet of Kelly Burke. GSO principals Robert Campbell, horn, Carol Bernstorf, bassoon, and John Spuller, doublebass, were joined by Diane Phoenix-Neal, a member of the viola section, and cellist Zvi Plesser from the NC School of the Arts (replacing Brooks Whitehouse). With only the finale beginning briefly in the serious-sounding minor mode, the septet is a pleasing sequence that makes the most of contrasts between string and wind sonorities. The slow second movement features a long arching melody on the clarinet followed by a prominent bassoon solo. The third movement has a catchy tune for the violin. The horn has a fleeting solo in the second movement and a more extended one in the fifth. The players seemed to enjoy playing the septet as much as the audience enjoyed hearing it.