Orchestral Music Review

Warhorses Given Their Second Wind by Sitkovetsky and the GSO

May 6, 2004 - Greensboro, NC:

Jaded critics and long-time concert goers often groan when they see programs dominated by concerto and orchestral warhorses like those on the Greensboro Symphony's final offering of the season, heard May 6 in War Memorial Auditorium. Under the "Russian Masters" rubric, Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky programmed two of the most often scheduled works in the repertory. Had they received merely hastily rehearsed routine performances, it would have been a long evening, but both works were dusted off, given thoughtful musical reconsideration, and played with considerable precision and sensitivity.

Chicago-born Tai Murray, currently a full scholarship student at the Juilliard School studying with Joel Smirnoff, brought a fresh and welcome approach to Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35. Instead of trying to wow the audience with showy technique, she brought a great deal of gentleness and introspection to her interpretation of the first movement. There was no lack of precise intonation, and the harmonics - which were organic parts of the soloist's vision - were wonderful. The second movement was like overhearing a very intimate conversation; the finale more resembled other performances I had heard.

During a particularly interesting "Meet the Artists" session, the young African-American virtuosa said that she had begun studying the Tchaikovsky at the age of 10 when a teacher gave her an old Russian edition of the full score with markings that differed from the standard Western version. The latter has cuts made by Leopold Auer that Sitkovetsky said distort the composer's normal way of developing a melody through repetition. Murray played the concerto on a fabulously rich-sounding 1727 Guanerius del Jesu on loan from the Juilliard School. Its remarkable depth of sound sometimes gave it an almost viola-like quality. She has just finished a tour as a member of Music from Marlboro. I look forward to hearing this promising young artist again.

The huge strides that the string sections of the Greensboro Symphony have made were on display in all the works played but were particularly evident in two orchestral fairy tales by Anatol Konstantinovich Lyadov. "The Enchanted Lake," Op. 62, has an ethereal opening with low "ppp" strings. A quiet cello melody set against the slightest "rocking" of the violins suggests small waves on a still lake. There is a splendid melody, sung by the solo oboe. "Kikimora," Op. 63, opened with ominous low "pp" strings, later joined by dark-colored woodwinds. A Russian-sounding song was spun by Mary Ashley Barret on her dulcet English horn.

In order justly to credit all those responsible for one of the most vital performances of Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition that I have heard, all of the orchestra's members could be named. Sitkovetsky secured tight ensemble, elicited a wide palette of color, and achieved subtle dynamics. Anita Cirba's opening trumpet solo set just the right tone and pace, and later her instrument's muted mutterings were perfect for portraying the beggar Schumyle. The alto saxophone player richly deserved Sitkovetsky's acknowledgement for the colorful melody in the "Old Castle" section. Warhorses should always get such invigorating treatment!

During the "Meet the Artists" session, Sitkovetsky drew attention to an innovation the GSO begins next season. On Friday nights, between the Thursday and Saturday concerts, visiting soloists will join members of the symphony and possibility Sitkovetsky himself for chamber music programs. See our 2004-5 series tab for details.

This program will be repeated tonight (5/8) and Tuesday (5/11/) in the same venue.