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Conductor Dmitry Sitkovetsky introduced this concert to the UNC Greensboro Recital Hall audience by remembering this was his tenth year as music director of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and the eighth year of his popular Sitkovetsky and Friends chamber music series. Musicians donated their services during the inaugural season but all subsequent seasons have been generously supported by Rice Toyota. Owner Garson Rice was honored with a plaque, and he in turn thanked the audience for their continued support of the series.
This season’s Masterworks Series has featured a number of rising violin virtuosi. About this final series of concerts’ guest, Alexander “Sasha” Sitkovetsky, Dmitri said he was a first cousin once removed. “Sasha” was born in Moscow and was already playing violin at age 6 when Yehudi Menuhin selected him and a few others to go with their teachers to continue intensive study at Menuhin’s school in London. “Sasha’s” career has begun a rapid rise with extensive solo and ensemble concerts and recordings on five labels.
Sonata No. 1 in A minor for violin and piano, Op. 105 was composed between September 12-16, 1851 by Robert Schumann, shortly before the onset of the effects of his manic depressive disorder which led to his hospitalization later in 1854. Dmitri said the unsettled mood of the piece may be a reflection of Schumann’s mental problems. In Guide to Chamber Music, Melvin Berger writes that the “sonata’s writing is neither grateful nor idiomatic for the two instruments and the persistence of the minor mode” makes it “sound overly somber and fatalistic.” Nevertheless the composer’s creative spark produced music “equal to his most outstanding compositions.” The sonata is in three movements. The passionate first movement exploits a compact sonata form given forward momentum by sparing use of closely related rhythms and the building of intensity by use of canonic treatment of themes. The brief, charming second movement is a carefree rondo. The finale blends agitated energy with a sparkling perpetual motion before coming to a last crescendo followed by three unexpected chords.
Alexander Sitkovetsky gave Op. 105 a masterful interpretation, fully conveying the stormy emotional intensity of the piece. He produced a full, ravishing tone and displayed a refined and wide dynamic range as well as tasteful application of color. His seamless legato playing in the second movement was ravishing. His articulation in the fastest passages was clean and precise as was his intonation. His every musical twist and turn was matchlessly supported by pianist Inara Zandmane. Balance between instruments was perfect and the piano’s lid was fully raised.
Distant cousins joined for short pieces that revealed the least known facet of the genius of Dmitri Shostakovich. Instead of what writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn called “enslaved genius,” such as the tragic undertone and hidden subtexts of Shostakovich’s chamber music, the Duets for two violins and piano (1955) reflect the composer of such things as movie music, light-hearted songs and dance music. Three duets were to be on the announced program but Dmitri said he had prepared three while Sasha wanted to do all five. The five short duets were: “Prelude,” Gavotte,” “Elegie,” “Waltz,” and “Polka.” The Sitkovetsky's performances were delightful in every way from the wonderful blending of their violins’ tones to the witty give-and-take between them, especially in the polka. Zandmane made the most of a very much in the background type of accompaniment.
The Quintet in C for two violins, viola, and two cellos, Op. 163, D. 956 by Franz Schubert is widely considered the greatest work in the chamber music repertoire. When Charles Wadsworth organized the chamber music series for the Spoleto Festival in Italy, festival creator Gian Carlo Menotti insisted every season contain the Schubert Cello Quintet. It is justly frequently programmed on our state’s chamber music series and festivals. Its four movements abound in gorgeous melodies, magical transformations of color and character, remarkable syncopations, boisterous peasant dances, and extraordinary mood swings between exultation and desolation. No one would want to shorten a single bar of its heavenly length.
Dmitri Sitkovetsky played first violin joined by Alexander Sitkovetsky on second violin. Violist Scott Rawls sat in the middle while the violinists faced GSO principal cellist Beth Vanderborg, who took first cello position, joining with Winston-Salem Symphony principal cellist Brooks Whitehouse on second. The performance was as breathtaking as it was magnificent. The blending of the pairs of violins and the pairs of cellos was marvelous as was the interaction between Rawls’ viola with members of the other two pairs, such as in the magical moment in the latter half of the third movement when Sasha, on second violin, matched Rawls’ viola followed by the viola linking with Whitehouse’s second cello part. This was as fine a performance of the Cello Quintet as I have ever heard in over thirty years of concert going with seldom a year passing without at least one performance of the Schubert Quintet. Bravo!