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Few things could have done more to enhance the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra's relationships with the communities it serves than Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky's recent gala recitals, held in UNCG's Recital Hall in Greensboro April 2 and in Elon University's Whitley Auditorium on April 4. All funds raised will support local music education concerts. Joining the conductor, a world-renowned violin virtuoso, was his equally esteemed mother, pianist Bella Davidovich, who teaches at the Juilliard School. The Greensboro event was sold out and at concert-time only about 50 tickets remained for the Elon recital.
I usually grumble if the piano lid is left at its lowest raised position because most instruments sound muffled and dull this way. Since I began reviewing, I cannot recall a concert being played with the lid completely shut, as it was at Elon. While Whitley Auditorium is a jewel-box of a hall, it is reverberant to a fault when a piano is used and the hall is less than full. The room badly needs thick curtains or tapestries to tame the sound. Since the piano used was the university's glorious 1922D restored Steinway, however, its robust sound and rich palette defied its muzzle.
A friend said that, other than Sitkovetsky, there is no violinist before the public today she wanted to see and hear, and aside from the visually appealing Chee-Yun and Elina Vähälä, she is right. There is no more elegant bow arm than Sitkovetsky's. With no wasted motion, his whole body ergonomically moves with the easy follow-through of an athlete. His intonation is always precise in the highest position and at breath-taking speeds. Quibbles from die-hard original-instruments addicts about his Bach aside, his mastery of Classical, Romantic, modern and wide-ranging national styles is impeccable. As the concert proceeded, it became obvious that his mother shares this mastery.
Instead of the more frequently programmed "Kreutzer" or "Spring" sonatas, the program opened with a restrained reading of Beethoven's Sonata No. 1 in D, Op. 12. Ears quickly adjusted to the sound of the hall and the still-assertive keyboard. Davidovich gave all of the composer's characteristic sudden outbursts their due. The seemingly easy give and take between musicians was a delight to see and hear. Closely matched phrasing was just one of the concert's treats.
For more than a decade, the Orfeo recording of the three Grieg sonatas by Sitkovetsky and Davidovich has been the prime recommendation of most critics. Their performance of the Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 45, the best known of the three, was richly satisfying, thanks to the full, warm, Romantic violin tone and brilliant piano arpeggios. The many portions of sequential repetition were given plenty of nuances. More than once we thought what a delight it would be to hear the pianist do the Grieg concerto with the GSO on some future program.
Perhaps the sheer beauty of the duo's consummate performance of Mozart's Sonata in F, K. 377, arguably the best, was the cause of the absence of applause at its finish. The even dialog between instruments and glorious variety of the theme and variations simply took one's breath away.
Ravel's Sonata in G has long been a favorite and it received a superlative reading that was the crowning touch for the recital. What a rainbow of colors was conjured by Sitkovetsky from his Stradivarius! Where has Davidovich been moonlighting? The sight of her "getting down and dirty" in the Blues episode was priceless and so right.
Prolonged applause was rewarded with two rich encores - Kreisler's arrangement of one of Tchaikovsky's Song Without Words and Kreisler's own "The Little Bee's March." This was followed by a virtual cornucopia at a reception at the residence of Elon University President Leo M. Lambert.