Chamber Music Review



Sitkovetsky and Friends: Eclectic Program Mix Rewarding

January 11, 2008 - Greensboro, NC:


Greensboro Symphony Music Director Dmitri Sitkovetsky quipped that while this chamber music program loosely fitted the season's overall theme of "Vienna," about all the three composers had in common was their language, German. During the concert, given in the Recital Hall of UNCG, he drew interesting personal connections with two of the works. The musicians reflected Sitkovetsky's typical blend of himself, orchestra members and, on this occasion, talented Triad faculty members.

The Piano Trio in G, Hob. XV:25 ("Gypsy Rondo"), by Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) is familiar to chamber music regulars in the Carolinas because it often opens visiting piano trios' concerts or its infectious last movement serves as an encore. Haydn pulls surprises by not having any of its three movements conform to classical expectations. The first movement, Andante, alternates and varies two contrasted themes instead of being a sonata-form fast movement. While the middle movement has the usual slow tempo, it is derived from the Adagio of Haydn's Symphony No. 102. The estates of Haydn's patrons, Esterházy and Eisenstadt, are near what is now the Hungarian border. Haydn applied gypsy style to the concluding rondo, using a theme constantly switching between major and minor keys.

UNCG faculty pianist Inara Zandmane was joined by guest violinist Augustin Hadelich and GSO principal cellist Beth Vanderborgh. Zandmane, one of the Triad's most versatile musicians, played with the piano lid fully raised, but she masterfully controlled her dynamics so as never to cover either string players' lines. She produced a marvelous, clear tone with a subtle, wide palette of color. Both string players matched and blended within this range, conjuring a full warm tone. Hadelich proved to be a superb chamber musician, relishing the give-and-take among the players. The musicians' wonderfully idiomatic application of rubato was delightful as they speeded up or slowed down as Haydn's theme twisted and turned.

During the post-concert "Meet the Artists," Sitkovetsky had an interesting anecdote that connected his Stradivarius violin with the famous Thibaud-Cortot-Casals Trio recording of the Haydn Trio No. 25. While violinist Thibaud never owned the late Strad, he always borrowed it for extra power against Casals' cello. Sitkovetsky said Casals, coveting the violin part's melodies, stole some of them for the cello part. This historical recording is currently available on Naxos 8.110188.

Logistic frustrations with two past performances of Six Songs for Baritone, Violin, and Piano, Op. 154, by Louis Spohr (1784-1859), played a role in Sitkovetsky's selecting the set for this concert. Early in his violinist career, Sitkovetsky was scheduled to play for a recording featuring baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. The violin part was lost in the mail, so Sitkovetsky had to learn the by-no-means-negligible part at the recording session! A later music festival performance with baritone Thomas Allen was cancelled due to the singer's illness. Sitkovetsky's Orfeo recording is available as a P2P download at http://www.mininova.org/tor/506086 [inactive 6/08] or as a CD from http://www.arkivmusic.com

The performers were baritone Robert Overman, currently artist-in-residence at Greensboro College, Sitkovetsky on violin, and Nancy Johnson, currently the GSO's pianist and an NCSA faculty member. The major drawback of the performance was the absence of texts or any explanation of the songs from the stage. All the songs had a gentle lyricism. Perhaps the best song is the fifth, "Der Spielmann und seine Geige" ("The Minstrel and his Fiddle"), a tale about a jilted lover seeking solace from his violin. The fourth song, "Erlkönig" ("The Earl King"), unfortunately suffers from comparison with a setting by Loewe less effectively exploiting a shocking diminished seventh at the climax. It is far less dramatic than Schubert's even more famous setting ("Der Erlkönig," D.328), which tells the tale in four voices — the narrator, the child, the father, and the Earl King. In addition, the violin part just keeps going steadily throughout without being linked to the Erl King's lures or otherwise being used dramatically. Overman's diction was crystal clear, and his voice was even across its range. Sitkovetsky's violin playing would have pleased the composer, a noted virtuoso and author of a famous book on violin playing whose extensive catalog includes operas, etc. Johnson is a sensitive accompanist who attended closely to her colleagues.

The Sonata No. 3 in D minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 108, of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), is in four movements rather than the more common three, as in the earlier two sonatas. All three sonatas reflect the sound-world of the composer's golden, late, "autumnal" period. The third sonata is more compact and intense than the earlier two and goes far beyond them in dramatic sweep, in scale, and in virtuosic demands on both players. Brahms makes use of quotations from his songs in all three sonatas. Augustin Hadelich displayed remarkable musical depth in addition to technical facility in his performance of Glazunov's Violin Concerto the evening before, and these qualities were present in spades throughout the Brahms work. Hadelich and pianist Inara Zandmane played the third sonata with an assurance and maturity that belied a short period of collaboration. Hadelich produced a sumptuous tone with immaculate intonation while his insight into phrasing was profound. Zandmane's piano accompaniment matched his every turn without ever covering the string line. The slow movement seemed like a profound, timeless communion with the composer.