Word of mouth must have spread quickly. Empty seats were rare in the intimate recital hall of the University of North Carolina Greensboro School of Music for the penultimate concert of the Sitkovetsky and Friends Chamber Music Series under the enlightened sponsorship of Garson Rice, Jr. and Rice Toyota. Featured artists were violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Music Director of the Greensboro Symphony, UNCG faculty pianist Inara Zandmane, GSO principal cellist Alexander Ezerman, and guest piano concerto soloist Lucas Debargue.

The concert opened with Violin Sonata No. 28 in E-flat, K. 380 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). This is the last of a set of six published in 1781 as “Opus 2” by Artaria and known as the Auernhammer Series. They were dedicated to his piano student Josapha von Auernhammer, daughter of a wealthy burgher. The composer adopts a three-movement structure. Both the opening and final movements blend dramatic intensity with bravura displays for both instruments equally. The middle slow movement exploits chromaticism and spins a poignant, seamless melodic line.

It was a constant delight as Sitkovetsky and Zandmane, with seeming effortlessness, tossed musical repartee from one to the other. Ensemble was immaculate, never hinting at the hair-trigger accuracy demanded. Sitkovetsky’s intonation was flawless and both played with care in bringing out the Romantic qualities in this late Classical work.

Debargue was fourth prize winner of the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition. Sitkovetsky said that the pianist had won Van Cliburn-like affection from the Moscow audiences and was playing to sold-out houses in Russia.

The great Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50 by Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-93) brought the concert to a spectacular conclusion. The trio is dedicated “To the memory of a great artist,” pianist Nicholas Rubinstein, who died March 1881. Completed on February 9, 1882, it was publicly performed October 30 after a private premiere March 2, 1882. It consists of two lengthy movements, the first in sonata form with four rich melodic themes and called Pezzo Elegiaco. Rubinstein’s love of folk music is recalled by the theme for the extended variation movement. It is an original melody based upon a tune peasants once sang to Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky when they were on a picnic in the countryside in May 1873. It is played first by the piano followed by eleven elaborate variations. The virtuoso finale consists of a twelfth variation capped by a magnificent return of the opening theme of the first movement.

All three players were in top form for a performance which blew off any hint of dust or routine from the score! Both Sitkovetsky and Ezerman produced full, rich string tones as they dug into their bows to balance Dubargue’s extraordinary power. What a blaze of keyboard musicianship and technique! There was a white hot improvisatory quality about the ensemble’s playing that swept along the listener. Seldom have the raw emotions of Tchaikovsky been so intensely exposed. The cry of grief of the twelfth variation and subsequent funeral march were shattering.

Encores are extremely rare at Sitkovetsky and Friends concerts – a scherzo or rondo for the ensemble once in a while. Prolonged standing ovations were rewarded with two encores: Eric Satie’s three Grossiennes followed by an extended jazz improvisation by Dubargue. I expect more than one presenter will book Dubargue’s return to North Carolina.