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The star of this chamber music concert by Sitkovetsky & Friends was 25-year-old double bassist Xavier Foley, who had wowed the orchestra audience crowd the night before. As Greensboro Symphony Orchestra director Dmitri Sitkovetsky pointed out in his opening remarks, the audience was going to be able to hear Foley as both composer and performer: he played in all seven works on the program, four of which he wrote. Talk about exploring untraveled paths!
The evening began with a gratifying performance of Intermezzo and Tarantella for double bass and piano, Op. 9, by Reinhold Glière (Ukraine, 1875-1956). Sitkovetsky explained that while Glière lived through incredibly turbulent times, his music remains somewhat detached from that turbulence. The dreamy Intermezzo sets a world far removed from any care, a beautiful lyric journey. Tarantella is a feisty workout for the bassist. Not all notes were perfectly in tune (both here and later in the evening, but energy and style more than compensated. Foley's stalwart assistant at the piano was Inara Zandmane.
The two returned for the short "Gravity Waltz" (the second movement of Foley's Star Sonata). The composer explained he wrote it while a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, as an example of "space" music. In this work, Zandmane and the bassist traded trippy lines, overlapping with each other. Fun.
Next up was Sonata No. 3 in G for Cello and Double Bass, G. 5, by Luigi Boccherini (Italy, 1743-1805). It was probably originally written as a sonata for two cellos. Foley's second was cellist Alex Ezerman, who explained that Boccherini is considered to be the "father of the modern cello." Furthermore, Boccherini's father (Luigi's first teacher) was a cellist and bassist, and the two played together frequently.The opening Largo presents a lovely tune in the cello, with mostly accompaniment from the bass (sometimes playing double stops). The Menuetto was a perky number in three (of course). The sturdy Allegro all militaire (usually played as the second movement) rounded out the short composition with crisp rhythms. The entire work was solidly played by the duo.
Foley's "Cranberry Juice" for cello and double bass paired the composer with Ezerman again. Ezerman explained the piece was "bluesy and a bit thematic." Indeed, Foley laid down a repeated riff several times, with the cello playing jazzy flourishes.
The mood changed substantially with the Quintet in G minor for Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, and Double Bass, Op. 39, by Sergei Prokofiev (Russia, 1892-1953). Originally written for a ballet (Trapèze), it was never performed. But Prokofiev used the music for this quintet and a divertimento. The five musicians – Ashley Barret (oboe), Kelly Burke (clarinet), Sitkovetsky (violin), Scott Rawls (viola) and Foley (bass) – played four of the original six movements. Much could be considered "circus" music, not taking itself too seriously. The entire affair mostly reminded me of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale in character.
The opening Tema con variazioni is stylistically all over the map, but glissandos, pizzicatos, and harmonics were the order of the day for the strings. The second movement, Andante energico, was ponderously humorous. The Allegro sostenuto featured Barrett and Burke tooting away over somewhat schizophrenic strings. The finale, Adagio pesante, is a bit dirge-like. Throughout, the music is irreverent and saucy. All five musicians took moments in the spotlight, to good effect, and the group displayed great ensemble throughout.
Sitkovetsky and Foley paired up for Foley's "Hibernation," a work inspired by the background music from films about Japan that the composer used to see in his classes. The title comes from the sense of repose that Foley felt from those scores. From Sitkovetsky setting down soulful melodies over Foley's pizzicato bass, to passages of increased intensity and high register violin playing, the entire short work emitted an air of spontaneity.
Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895) by Richard Strauss (Germany, 1864-1949) is scored for a huge orchestra. The concluding piece of the evening Till Eulenspiegel for clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, and double bass (arr. Franz Hasenoehrl, Austria 1885-1970), could be viewed as the orchestra-lite version. The scoring is fun, effective, and contains all the great tunes that audiences love. A great way to end an unusual evening of chamber music from start to finish.