Illness led to a swap of artists and programs for the October and May “Sitkovetsky and Friends” concerts, and the resulting finale, presented May 6 in UNCG’s Recital Hall, served to seal the new series’ success and highlight its special qualities. Beginning as an experiment by Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky, the series built its audience slowly but ended the season with a sellout and an announcement of future sponsorship by Rice Toyota. To remarkable degrees, given the formality of modern concert halls, all the performances have been characterized by the sort of intimate give-and-take – and warmth – that must have distinguished 19th-century salons or the after-concert camaraderie of musicians reading chamber music for their own pleasure. For this last program of 2004-5, this atmosphere was further enriched by the welcome return of the noted pianist Bella Davidovich, the conductor’s mother and mentor. The two works programmed are rare birds in the concert hall or on recordings.

Five Melodies, Op. 35bis (1925), for violin and piano, began life as a set of vocalises, Five Songs Without Words, Op. 35 (1920), with piano accompaniment. Sergei Prokofiev arranged these for violin while he was in exile in America. Each movement is dedicated to a prominent violinist of the period. Unlike much of the music of his early years, harsh angularity is largely absent, and all five movements are dominated by flowing lyricism. Only a touch of tartness in the last piece hints at the composer’s l’enfant terrible period. As a lover of the full flavor of piano sound across its dynamic range, I was delighted that Davidovich played with the lid fully raised. Her control of the sound was so precise that never once did she cover the strings. Her mastery of tone color was apparent from the opening bars of the Prokofiev, which sometimes suggested the sound world of French Impressionists like Debussy. Sitkovetsky spun a seamless stream of melody while employing a wide range of techniques. His dynamic range was finely nuanced. A brief moment in the second piece that involved pp muted strings above stark piano chords suggested an icy scene from Alexander Nevsky. Sometimes the mood was playful, suggesting elements of jazz.

From the stage, Sitkovetsky said that Ernest Chausson’s Concert in D, Op. 21, for violin, piano, and string quartet, is in effect a concerto for violin and piano in which the keyboard has the lion’s share of the music and does not merely accompany the other players. The composer’s title harkens back to the baroque concerto grosso, exemplified by François Couperin or Rameau. His hybrid form applies romantic language and a cyclic structure to the older form’s concertino and ripieno. Joining Davidovich and Sitkovetsky were GSO Concertmaster John Fadial, Assistant Concertmaster Wendy Rawls, Principal Viola Scott Rawls, and Principal Cello Beth Vanderborgh. Bows dug in to produce the frequently thick sonority. Full ensemble playing alternated with piano solos or duets for violin and piano. The composer’s endless transformations of the original theme are fascinating. The strings produced a full, rich texture, and the artists radiated the joy of music making. There were multiple levels of “family” music making on stage – mother and son, and within the “orchestral “family,” pairs of spouses.*

Lots of varied works by Beethoven dominate the 2005-6 “Sitkovetsky and Friends” series, and the selections will surely broaden music lovers’ appreciation of the breadth of his compositional style. These GSO offerings are quickly becoming the series tickets that Triad music lovers “have to have.”

PS: As noted last fall in our review of the first concert in this new series, Sitkovetsky has said that all the musicians were donating their services this season. This was and remains a great gift to the community.

*The Rawls are husband and wife, as are Fadial and Vanderborgh.