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Sitkovetsky and Friends experimented with both a change of performance date and a change of location for its fascinating program of Romantic Russian chamber music. Instead of a Friday evening concert in UNC Greensboro's Recital Hall, the series concert began at 4:00 p.m. in the warm acoustics of Temple Emanuel. The series musicians are usually made up of conductor/concert violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky, his current concerto soloist, and members of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. It has a wonderful esprit de corps, an unjaded love of the give-an-take of chamber music not always present in touring groups with heavy schedules. January's concerts had a Russian theme and the featured guest was Sergey Antonov, the youngest cellist to ever win the gold medal of the International Tchaikovsky Competition.
The Sonata in G minor for piano and cello, Op. 19 of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) was the ideal vehicle to display fully Antonov's technical mastery and musical depths. Antonov's able accompanist was Inara Zandmane. The composer was an outstanding pianist which is reflected in major themes often first appearing in the keyboard to be taken up in turn by the cello. The work is in four movements. A "Lento" preamble leads to the "Allegro moderato" first movement with rhythmic figures and motifs alternating between the cello and piano. The radiant "Scherzo" has an almost Mendelssohnian lightness. The slow third movement is lyrical and filled with yearning and nostalgia. The fourth movement is a fast-paced and joyous reprise of themes drawn from the first two movements. Antonov's playing was by turns astonishing and breathtaking. His intonation was sheer perfection all the time. His articulation was outstanding no mater how fast the tempo. But his ability to spin out and sustain Rachmaninoff's long, heart-felt melodies was extraordinary. Zandmane more than held up the high demands the composer assigned to her keyboard part. Both artists displayed a wide range of dynamics and a broad palette of color.
The original Program Book listed the Franck Piano Quintet, but after considering the Dvorák Op. 81, the rarely heard Piano Quintet in G minor of Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) proved to be a fascinating final selection. Its four movements take up three-quarters of an hour and the composer creates a large volume of sound from five instruments. Many composers would have been happy to compose a whole piece the length of Taneyev's first movement! The unsigned program note says "it opens with a slow introduction marked sesto ("sad"), and the piano's opening figure will become the fundamental theme-shape for the entire quintet." This evolves into the main theme in the "Allegro patetico" (patetico=intense). The movement's scope and expressive range are overwhelming. The delightful "Scherzo" is lighter with a sparkling piano part and unusual metric variety. "The remarkable 'Largo' is built around an ostinato-like theme stamped out by all five players and then repeated in some form throughout the movement." The dramatic and tumultuous last movement draws upon material from earlier movements.
The players for the Taneyev Quintet were first violinist Dmitri Sitkovetsky, second violinist Janet Orenstein, violist Simon Ertz, cellist Sergey Antonov, and pianist Inara Zandmane. The composer has given fine solos and interesting pairings for every player. Sitkovetsky and Antonov played their extensive solos gloriously with warm tones and superb phrasing. Zandmane gloried in the extraordinary variety of the keyboard part! Orenstein's and Ertz's string playing fully met the standards of their colleagues and Taneyev's demands. The two middle movements were so immediately winning one wonders why this piece is not more a standard repertoire work.