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Chamber music by Wolfgang Mozart (1756-1791) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) comprised the program for Friday evening's Greensboro Symphony chamber concert in UNCG School of Music, Theatre and Dance's Recital Hall. Dmitri Sitkovetsky, Music Director of the Greensboro Symphony, served not only as MC for the evening, but also as first violinist for the Brahms.
After recognizing the sponsor for this chamber series, Garson Rice (of Rice Toyota), Sitkovetsky explained that the previous evening the GSO was called the "crown jewel" of the arts scene in Greensboro. He hoped that the chamber series was a "slice" of that jewel.
Sitkovetsky also explained that when he designed the 2014-15 music series, he wasn't sure who the violinist would be for this chamber concert and for the GSO performance of Sibelius' Violin Concerto, which also takes place this weekend. That person (whom he identified as a "question mark") would be the winner of the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, which Sitkovetsky helped judge in September. As it turned out, the winner was Jinjoo Cho from South Korea.
The 26-year-old Cho joined Sitkovetsky in Brahms String Sextet No. 2 in G, Op. 36 (composed in 1864-65). Other members of the ensemble included Scott Rawls and Noah Hock (violas) and Beth Vanderborgh and Anne Selitti (cellos). This is a sprawling, four-movement work premiered, interestingly, in Boston in 1866.
The work was written shortly after Brahms and Agathe von Siebold called off their engagement; so instead of a "happy ending" to the affair, Sitkovetsky pointed out it was a "happy ending" for chamber music. The opening movement features a tune and an accompanying tremolo that are heard later in the work. Later in the same movement, Brahms incorporated a tune that is carved out of the letters of Agathe’s name, a sweet reminder of a past love.
The second movement Scherzo features a humorous Trio that is surrounded by a more somber minor mode beginning and ending. The heart of the work is the slow third movement, five variations that are both pensive and lively by turn. The movement is a tour-de-force of contrapuntal writing, where each instrument has its own independent melody.
The finale returns the tremolo idea from the first movement with stormy tunes, primarily played by the first violin, viola, and cello. Throughout the work, ensemble among the six was sometimes not as tight as it could have been, but each member performed with intensity, passion and tenderness by turn. The large audience was moved by the result.
The evening opened with a great appetizer, Mozart's scintillating Violin Sonata No. 23 in D, K. 306 (the first three-movement violin sonata written by the composer). The work was penned in 1778, when the composer was 22. Pianist Inara Zandmane accompanied Cho in a crystalline performance.
The first and last movements are all about sophisticated chic and elegance. The opening Allegro took off with sparkling piano and displayed Zandmane's shimmering technique. The violin gets to introduce the second tune; Cho's intonation was exquisite and her spirit was contagious.
The slow, elegant second movement spotlighted both piano and violin, alternating in the presentation of the main melodic material.
The finale was full of surprises, with sudden changes of mood and tempo. There was even a cadenza (usually reserved for concertos), primarily for the piano. The ensemble between Cho and Zandmane was first rate, with the two being careful and respectful of each other's musicality, a winning combination for the audience.