The Recital Hall of the University of North Carolina Greensboro School of Music was well filled with music lovers eagerly anticipating the opening of the eleventh season of the Rice Toyota Sitkovetsky and Friends chamber music series. After Dmitry Sitkovetsky became music director of the Greensboro Symphony in 2003, his love of chamber music led him to found the series which often features soloists appearing with the orchestra the next year. Musicians donated their services the first year but all seasons since 2005 have been supported by Garson Rice of Rice Toyota.
Patronage of the arts, past and present, was a theme throughout this concert. Both George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) received patronage from the aristocracy. Current performing arts organizations are dependent on generous local donors. Rice, current GSO Board chairman, and Sitkovetsky dedicated this concert to the memory of a major supporter of the arts in Greensboro, Tobee Wynne Kaplan (1933-2016).
Handel's Violin Sonata No. 4 in D, HMV 371 is regarded as one of his finest chamber works. It is his last chamber music composition and is based upon Arcangelo Corelli's sonata da chiesa model (church sonata) consisting of four movements: slow-fast-slow-fast. Handel's are marked Adagio (Affecttuoso), Allegro, Larghetto, and Allegro. The slow movements are very dignified and majestic while the fast movements adapt dance forms leavened with counterpoint. Before the rise of the early music movement, this sonata was in every major virtuoso's repertoire. This sonata is especially important to Sitkovetsky. Fifty years ago this month, the twelve-year-old Dmitry's performance led to his being the youngest-ever first prize winner of the Prague Concertino Competition for Young Musicians.
Sitkovetsky phrased beautifully and played with immaculate intonation, full, warm tone, and agile articulation. Rhythms were well sprung. His fiddling of the trill near the end of the first movement was delightful. The third movement had a feeling of great depth. Inara Zandmane scaled back the dynamics of the grand piano and accompanied him with great elegance.
Beethoven's Piano Trio in B-flat, Op. 97, "Archduke" is the pinnacle of the piano trio repertoire. The nickname comes from the composer's dedication to Archduke Rudolph, younger brother of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Leopold II. The archduke was the longtime piano student, friend, and major patron of the composer. Sitkovetsky said it came at the transition between the composer's "middle" and "late" periods when he was briefly at peace. It was also a period of transition from the decline of performers and patronage from the aristocracy (from the Napoleonic Wars) and the rise of public performances and professional performers from the middle class.
The trio is in four movements. The lush and expansive opening Allegro moderato is followed by a witty Scherzo (Allegro) which masterfully treats its simple melodies with skilled counterpoint. The Andante cantabile ma pero con moto is a heavenly expanse, a set of five variations with a hymn-like serenity. A sustained note leads to the vigorous dance-like rondo.
New GSO principal cellist and UNCG faculty member Alexander Ezerman joined Sitkovetsky and Zandmane. Theirs was a glowing, refined performance with particular care for p passages. The permutations of the broad, singing theme of the first movement as each player took it up was delightful. Ezerman's deep, rich tone in his solo within the second movement was ravishing. The third movement was played with such delicacy it seemed like overhearing an intimate conversation between three friends. The finale lacked nothing in verve or spirited playing and was rewarded with multiple curtain calls. Balance between players was ideal as Zandmane, with the piano's lid fully raised, controlled dynamics and tone masterfully.
Unfortunately Sitkovetsky's commercial recording of the "Archduke," Novalis 150008-2 with pianist Gerhard Oppitz and cellist David Geringas, is out-of-print but well worth searching or reissuing.