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With one notable exception, Greensboro Symphony Orchestra music director Dmitry "Sitkovetsky and Friends" presented an all-Russian program. The guest artist was Julia Zilberquit, who wowed a large crowd the night before, playing her own transcriptions of Bach's transcriptions of concertos by Vivaldi.
The evening opened with the above-mentioned exception: Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Piano in C minor, S.1017, (written before 1723) by Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, 1685-1750), featuring Sitkovetsky and Zilberquit. The opening slow Siciliano featured the violinist's silken tone, spinning out the soulful melody with the pianist playing right-hand arpeggios. The perky Allegro contains tons of independent lines that are traded back and forth between the two. The performers sometimes slowed the tempo, highlighting important junctions and making sure the two were in sync.
The following Adagio was tender and featured subtle pianissimos from the violin. The Allegro finale features more counterpoint, with independent lines everywhere. The duo played with lots of energy as the movement bounced along, with occasional moments when the two were not perfectly in sync. Both performers played appropriately in a quasi-Baroque style, with Sitkovetsky using little vibrato (which occasionally made the violin sound a bit flat) and Zilberquit frequently playing in a non-legato fashion with little or no pedal.
The duo returned to perform Suite in the Old Style for Violin and Piano (1972) by Alfred Schnittke (Russia, 1934-98). Sitkovetsky explained to the audience that Schnittke supported himself by writing 70-some film scores; several film tunes made their way into the Suite. The composer is known for his "polystylism," which unites various styles of music. The five-movement Suite, however, is a conscious effort to imitate the earlier styles of Bach and Haydn.
Indeed, several movements recalled the Bach Sonata, especially the non-stop counterpoint in the Fuga. The second movement Ballet featured lots of work for the piano with continuous motion. Other movements were mellow, sweet, and delicate; moments of humor in the finale had the audience chuckling. Sitkovetsky and Zilberquit were fine partners, sharing the music equally, stepping forward or retreating into the background sensitively.
Sergei Rachmaninov (Russia, 1873-1943) wrote both the Elégie, Op. 3, No. 1, for solo piano and the Trio elégiaque No. 1 in G minor for Piano, Violin and Cello in 1892, during his final year as a student at the Moscow Conservatory. However, both works are far from "student" compositions.
Elégie, performed by Zilberquit, is a hyper-Romantic piece, with waves of sound moving towards climaxes that are never quite attained. The pianist's playing was terrific, with lots of rubato that helped bring out the rich, chromatic harmonies and breathe life into the melodic lines.
Cellist Alex Ezerman joined Sitkovetsky and Zilberquit for a lovely reading of the Trio elégiaque. This is heart-on-the-sleeve Romantic music. Often the violin and cello were in conversation with each other over a murmuring piano, and impassioned melodies uttered in octaves by the two helped add passion.
The evening closed with the Overture on Hebrew Themes for Clarinet, String Quartet and Piano, Op. 34, by Sergei Prokofiev (Russia, 1891-1953), written in 1919 while the composer was in the US. The instrumentation is for clarinet (Kelly Burke), string quartet (Sitkovetsky, Eva Hildebrandt, Eric Koontz, and Bethany Uhler), and piano (Zilberquit).
This is a delightful and infectious nine-minute work with wonderful tunes. The material is nicely distributed through the ensemble, but certainly the clarinet gets the lion's share, superbly played by Burke. The cello also has a prominent position, taking the tune several times; Uhler strongly stepped forward in these passages.
The GSO chamber series has moved from the splendid UNCG Tew Recital Hall to Well-Spring Theatre for the rest of the season. The Theatre is lovely, with a very wide stage. Personally, I miss the rich sound that only a 9-foot concert grand piano can offer (Well-Spring's is a 7-foot), especially in music with prominent piano parts. Perhaps a shell would help focus the sound a bit more and make for a more successful presentation.