Russian pianist Dmitry Masleev (b. 1988) studied at the Moscow Conservatory and has won several prestigious international piano competitions including the 2011 Chopin and the 2015 Tchaikovsky. This weekend he was in the Triad performing “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra on Thursday and Saturday. He also was the centerpiece of the Friday night Rice Toyota Sitkovetsky & Friends concert. Having wowed the audience on Thursday night, an overflowing crowd appeared Friday night; chairs were set up on the stage which were filled with students eager to hear the virtuoso.

Masleev was originally scheduled to play several selections from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Pieces, Op. 72, but as GSO Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky (serving as MC as well as performer for the chamber series) explained, the pianist was instead going to play a set of pieces by Rachmaninoff. These were part of Masleev’s upcoming Carnegie Hall debut a week from Monday (1/30). That suited the audience just fine.

All six of the Rachmaninoff works were written before the composer left Russia after the 1917 Revolution. Elegy and Prelude in C sharp minor are from the composer’s Op. 3 Morceaux de fantaisie (Fantasy Pieces) composed in 1892. Elegy, written appropriately in A minor key, begins with a 4-octave broken chord over which a simple melody unwinds. The right hand of the piano becomes more complicated through the course of the piece, but the melancholic tenor remains.

Masleev’s playing was sensitive, with subtle rhythmic nuances that made the music breathe. His pedaling was first-rate, never unnecessarily blurring the harmonies, but allowing the melody to be saturated in a rich texture. The Prelude in C-sharp minor is Rachmaninoff’s most famous composition; Masleev’s juxtaposition of the soft delicate passages with the loud dramatic ones was especially notable.

“Fragments,” although written in 1917, was not published until after the composer’s death. The opening and concluding chordal sections surround a dream-like middle section – beautiful.

The solo piano portion of the concert concluded with three Études-Tableaux. The first, Op. 33, No. 6 in E-flat, is an extroverted work that the pianist played with flair. The sprightly Op. 39, No. 4 in B minor is characterized by repeated notes in a perky rhythm. No. 9 in D closes the Op. 39 set and was the last of the Études-Tableaux the composer ever wrote. It is loosely a march, with virtuosity galore; the piece was a perfect conclusion to Masleev’s solo set and a testament to his formidable chops.

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) wrote his five-movement Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 57 in 1940 at the request of the Beethoven Quartet, a string group that had performed many of the composer’s quartets. Shostakovich was the pianist at the premiere. In 1941, the piece was awarded the Stalin Prize.

The Prelude (Lento) begins with a dramatic piano proclamation before the other four players enter. A faster moving section follows with the left hand of the piano playing “pizzicato,” over which each string player is highlighted. This is a completely egalitarian piece, with each instrument given equal time in the spotlight.

The second-movement Fugue (Adagio) slowly unfolds in an ethereal world (utilizing a motive that is in the composer’s Fifth Symphony) but eventually gains intensity and moves toward a cataclysmic climax. The movement returns to a gentle conclusion.

The third-movement Scherzo is the most familiar movement to most listeners. It is a raucous, fun affair, and all five musicians seemed to enjoy the lively repartee.

The Intermezzo (Lento) follows: a pizzicato cello line supports first the violin, which is joined by the viola. Eventually the piano quietly joins in until all instruments are exploring the introspective mood. The Allegretto Finale is played without a pause and provides a warm and congenial conclusion.  

One would have to search far and wide to find a better ensemble: Mazleev at the keyboard; Sitkovetsky played first violin and the principal chairs of the GSO filled out the quintet: Marjorie Bagley (violin), Scott Rawls (viola), and Alexander Ezerman (cello). The five carved out strong individual characters as well as coming together to provide solid support when all were playing. Excellent ensemble, intonation, and dedication to superb music making characterized the entire performance.

We all wish Masleev all the best at his Carnegie debut next week and feel lucky to have heard a “warm up” for the recital.