The original program for the final concert of the Sitkovetsky and Friends series in the UNC Greensboro School of Music Recital Hall was replaced by one that looked both backward and forward. Nostalgia played a role in Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s choice of Mozart’s Sonata in A, K.526, for piano and violin. Some twenty-five years ago when he and pianist Garrick Ohlsson first worked together in the Mostly Mozart series in New York City, K.526 was the work they played. By choosing Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 34, he wished to whet the audience’s appetite for next year’s orchestra and chamber music series which will focus on Brahms and Vienna.

The Köchel-Einstein catalog of Mozart’s music calls the Sonata in A the “most significant of the keyboard sonatas of Mozart” (emphasis added). According to Melvin Berger, author of one of my favorite “crutches,” the Guide to Sonatas: Music for One or Two Instruments, the sonata “maintains a perfect balance between the surface beauties of the gallant (style) and the intellectual rigors of the learned style, and between beautiful singing melodies and complex contrapuntal weavings.” Unlike Haydn’s duo sonatas and Mozart’s earlier ones that favor the keyboard, both instruments are treated equally, anticipating the approach of future composers such as Beethoven.

Throughout the performance of K.526, Ohlsson kept the piano perfectly balanced with Sitkovetsky’s immaculate and warm-toned violin. The fully-raised lid allowed all of the piano colors and overtones to be heard. Their phrasing and crisp articulation were models of refined classical style. The give-and-take between the players was a joy to hear and see.

Brahms’ Quintet in F Minor went through several radical metamorphoses before the composer was satisfied. It began as a string quintet in 1862 (score discarded), then was entirely transformed into a sonata for two pianos in 1863 (published as Op.34b), and was reworked into its final form in the summer of 1864. Regarded as the composer’s most epic piece of chamber music, the massive first movement abounds in melodic strains and rhythms. Brahms takes delight in counterpoising twos against threes in the subdued second subject where ostinato triplets underpin the equal pairs of notes in the melody. In contrast, the second movement is serene and tender. The intimidating Scherzo explodes with driving rhythms and is surfeited with melodies. The finale opens slowly with an ominous air, but this disappears as the cello sings forth with a fast and jolly tune, leading into the whirlwind-like conclusion.

Brahms’ Piano Quintet was performed with white-hot passion by pianist Garrick Ohlsson, violinists Dmitry Sitkovetsky and John Fadial, violist Scott Rawls, and cellist Beth Vanderborgh the latter two being  GSO principal players. The players took full advantage of the many opportunities the composer gave them to shine, here with full and rich melodies, there with vigorous rhythms. Intonation was excellent and the articulation of the fastest passages was consistently clear. The joy of chamber music and the sheer delight of back-and-forth between players, like the badinage in a witty drama, was evident all evening and has been a constant characteristic of Sitkovetsky’s series.

Among the guest artists joining the series for the 2007-8 season will be violinist Leila Josefowicz, the gorgeous and multitalented virtuoso cellist Nina Kotova, and Sitkovetsky’s mother, pianist Bella Davidovich. Kotova has been a fashion model and has composed a fine cello concerto. The wonderful pianist Pedja Muzijevic, who has delighted Chamber Arts Society audiences at Duke University as well as GSO audiences, will return. Violinist Augustin Hadelich will make his debut in the region.

*Edited/corrected 5/13-14/07.