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The story goes something like this: when Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky was judging the Leopold Mozart competition in Europe, he heard a young violinist who so impressed him that he talked to GSO President & CEO Lisa Crawford about bringing her to Greensboro for a concert. Crawford pointed to a picture on the wall and informed Sitkovetsky that she had already played Greensboro as a 12-year-old child prodigy. But the adult Yura Lee returned this week for several days full of music making, including three performances with the GSO and, Friday night, an evening of chamber music.
Having heard Lee tackle the fiendish First Violin Concerto by Paganini with great aplomb on Thursday night, I was delighted to find her chamber music making Friday night even more engaging than her concerto playing. She played in all three works on the program — Romantic Pieces by Dvorák, a serenade by the Hungarian Zoltán Kodály, and a trio by Mendelssohn.
Dvorák's Romantic Pieces, Op. 75 are a piano-violin arrangement of a work he had originally written for two violins and viola. Joining Lee on the piano was UNCG faculty member Inara Zandmane. It would be hard to find a better performance than these two musicians offered to the overflowing crowd at UNCG Recital Hall. Indeed several high school students, present as a part of a weekend Honor String Festival sponsored by UNCG, sat on the stage.
The opening Allegro moderato was tender and lyric; the Allegro maestoso assertive and folk-like. The Allegro appassionato is dreamy and featured breath-taking repeated lines from Lee that were mere whispers of the previously stated material; the final Larghetto is the most complicated of the four movements. Lee and Zandmane played with a wonderful give and take, which made the music fresh and alive.
Lee traded in her violin for a viola in Zoltán Kodály's 1920 three-movement Serenade for String Trio; violinists Sitkovetsky and Janet Orenstein joined her. This is a wonderful look into a Hungarian aesthetic in 1920 — chock full of rhythms and melodies influenced by the composer's work (along with Béla Bartók) in examining the native music of his country. The work is full of lively energy, especially evident in the opening Allegramente and final Vivo movements.
The middle movement (Lento, ma non troppo) was an amazing conversation between the first violin and viola — Lee gave a solemn pronouncement on viola, to which Sitkovetsky flippantly replied. The roles do get somewhat reversed later in the movement . . . The accompaniment was a non-stop tremolo from Orenstein (I'm not sure why her arm didn't drop off from sheer exhaustion!).
Felix Mendelssohn's Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (written in 1845) is not as well known as his earlier D minor Trio, but this later composition is a wonderful work as well. The four movements capture the essence of the composer and the early Romantic period. This performance featured Lee (back on violin), GSO principal cellist Beth Vanderborgh, and Zandmane on piano.
The first movement features the restlessness as well as the lyric — two characters that are the essence of Romanticism. The second movement (Andante espressivo) begins with a block-chord hymn-like statement from the piano; soon the movement becomes a lovely "song without words." The Scherzo movement is one of those magnificent Mendelssohn "elfin" pieces. The Finale is distinguished by a quotation from a Bach chorale in the course of the rondo. (And hey, isn't the opening tune the same melody as "Che fiero costume" by Legrenzi?)
Lee, Vanderborgh and Zandmane gave a vital and sensitive reading to the score. The music cajoled, caressed, and flitted as appropriate.