Friday night's Sitkovetsky & Friends concert was a showcase for Russian pianist Nikita Mndoyants (b. 1989), who graduated from the Moscow Conservatory. Since then his star has been ascending, winning the Paderewski competition in Poland, becoming a finalist in the Van Cliburn Competition, and winning the first prize at the 2016 Cleveland International Piano Competition. Mndoyants was in Greensboro this weekend, playing Brahms' wonderful Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra on Thursday and Saturday. After having displayed his talents in the concerto repertoire, Friday night's concert showed him equally at home playing both solo and chamber music.
As is the custom, GSO Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky elucidated some elements of the music the audience was about to hear. He explained that Franz Schubert (1797-1828) composed in the shadow of Beethoven, an exact contemporary. Nonetheless, future generations would recognize the genius of the short-lived composer – something like "time is a better judge than contemporary critics."
Schubert composed his Sonata for Violin and Piano in A, "Duo," D. 574 in 1817, although it was not published until 1851. The four-movement work shows both the influence of Mozart and Beethoven. The opening movement begins with a rocking motion in the piano, over which the violin spins out gentle, lyric lines.
The second-movement Scherzo was pure fun, the piano and violin scurrying up arpeggios at break-neck speed; the Trio provides a bit more relaxed mood. The Andantino is a lovely exploration of beautiful melody. The spirited finale also incorporates expressive lines, bringing the 25-minute piece to a completely satisfying close.
Sitkovetsky on violin and Mndoyants on piano worked in perfect harmony, each mirroring and matching the other's subtle nuances and exploration of character. From flying fingers to hearty chords, the music making was vivid.
Not only is Mndoyants a brilliant pianist, he is also a composer. As he explained, he wrote his Variations on a Theme by Paganini for a composition class ten years ago. The work for solo piano explores the complete range of the instrument in seven minutes. The listener often unsuccessfully searches for the recognizable tune, as it is only occasionally detectable.
Mndoyants' Notturno for piano trio featured the composer at the keyboard, GSO concertmistress Marjorie Bagley, and GSO first-chair cellist Alexander Ezerman. Mndoyants explained that it contained some folk-influenced material. After beginning with solo violin, the piano and cello eventually join in, often creating a night-music effect.
The Grand Sextet in E for piano and string quintet by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) was written in 1832 when the composer was in Milan, ostensibly to write an opera. This three-movement work was a lot of fun to listen to, with sparkling piano (supplied by Mndoyants) and string quintet Sitkovetsky and Bagley (violins), Scott Rawls (viola), Ezerman (cello), and John Spuller (double bass).
Sitkovetsky said that "you might think it is by Donizetti" because of the aria-like tunes that appear throughout the work. But I also heard Schubert (as in the "Trout" quintet), maybe because of the instrumentation (the double bass), the piano writing, and the lyricism.
The opening movement is full of good spirits and energy. The melodic lines are shared pretty equally between all the instruments, with each getting a moment or two in the spotlight. The Andante middle movement begins with an extended piano solo, sounding much like rhapsodic Chopin. Eventually the strings enter with lovely tunes. The final Allegro was played with infectious enthusiasm.
All six musicians played with passion, commitment, and joy in a work that is perhaps not the deepest music in the world. Still, it was fun and enjoyable.