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The second installment of the Rice Toyota Sitkovetsky & Friends Chamber Series took place Friday night, October 21, in the UNCG School of Music Recital Hall. As in last month's first program, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, violinist and Music Director of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra, spoke to the large audience before the concert began.
He took the opportunity to explain that he started the chamber series "to show my musical friends" to Greensboro. Friday night's "friend" was the piano soloist who had played with the GSO the previous evening, Konstantin Lifschitz.
Although both the pianist and Sitkovetsky are from Russia, the latter assured the audience that he did not know Lifschitz in their motherland. Rather, Sitkovetsky "discovered" Lifschitz in the mid '90s, when he read rave reviews of the pianist's recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations.
Sitkovetsky then invited the pianist to join him in music making, and the two have performed several times together, including at the violinist's mother's 70th birthday. Friday evening they joined in a performance of Beethoven's Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 4 in A minor, Op. 23.
Beethoven often worked on more than one composition at a time, and indeed he composed Opus 23 and Opus 24 (both are violin sonatas) in the years 1800-1. These were dedicated to the director of the Austrian national bank, Maurice de Fries. That same gentleman also received the dedication of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony as well as Haydn's last string quartet and Schubert's lied "Gretchen am Spinnrade."
The opening Presto is stern and dramatic, with lots of dynamic contrasts. Lifschitz is a powerful pianist, and he played the Beethoven passionately. Sometimes, in fact, from where this listener was sitting, the piano occasionally overpowered the violin.
The second movement shows some of young Beethoven's humor, and the main theme haltingly proceeds, with comments tossed in by the violin or the piano during the course of the tune's unfolding. Throw in a fugal passage and a few more ideas, and you have several different characters introduced in the music. The final movement returns to the stern mood of the opening movement, but there is some respite with material written in a major key.
Throughout the work one was impressed with the deep dedication both musicians displayed toward the music and toward working in tandem. Ensemble was superb, Sitkovetsky's violin sounded like a million bucks, and Lifschitz elicited a seemingly endless variety of tonal color from the piano.
The second half of the concert was devoted to Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat major, K.493, written in 1786. That same year witnessed the successful opening of the composer's The Marriage of Figaro and, according to musicologist Stanley Sadie, "it is a particularly happy work."
Historically this quartet is significant in that it is one of the first examples of a genre that would become important in the 19th century. For the record, Haydn wrote many piano trios, but not a single piano quartet.
Konstantin Lifschitz was at the piano, with GSO musicians John Fadial, violin, Maureen Michels, viola, and Beth Vanderborgh, cello. The opening Allegro is energetic, with long-winded themes, all in the warm tonality that E-flat often represented to Mozart.
The second movement Larghetto contains some lovely tunes and some interesting harmonic twists. Here, as in most of the movements performed the entire evening, the musicians observed all the repeats. In this movement, the result bordered on a long, slow-moving marathon. The Allegretto finale brought the music back to life with lots of flashy music for the piano.
The music in all three movements frequently pits the piano against the strings, much as would occur in a concerto setting. When the music is given over to the strings, the violin receives the lion's share of the tunes, which Fadial played with elegance, grace, and passion. Vanderborgh supplied a solid foundation, and when a solo line came around, she capitalized on it. The viola part mostly fills in harmony, with a few noticeable exceptions; Michels did a terrific job of balancing out the sonority.
But, make no mistake, this piece focuses on the piano, and once again Lifschitz led the way with technical brilliance and finely wrought phrasing. In the Beethoven, there were two voices, and often each vied for attention. In the Mozart, however, he seemed much more a team player, handing off phrases with the strings elegantly and with an ear to match the dynamics and color of his fellow performers.
As in the first chamber recital, Friday night's concert featured an extremely high level of music making. Greensboro can, thanks to Sitkovetsky, be proud to host such an illustrious chamber series, and we look forward to the next concert in January, which will once again feature the soloists playing with the GSO – cellist Gary Hoffmann and pianist Alexander Paley – in works by Beethoven and Brahms.
*Note: We are delighted to welcome Dr. Lindeman to CVNC. Triad readers will continue to enjoy his work in the pages of Triad Style and Greensboro's News and Record.