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As is the custom in this quasi-informal Friday night setting at the School of Music Recital Hall, Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky chatted up the audience, regaling the large group with stories about the compositions being performed, as well as some personal insights into the music. The audience learned, for example, that violin virtuoso Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770), the first composer on the program, worked in Padua, Italy and was visited by Leopold Mozart with son Wolfgang in tow. And, as if the work at hand (“Devil’s Trill” sonata) wasn’t hard enough, Fritz Kreisler added his own cadenza to the work.
Numerous legends recount deals with the devil; one such caused the Violin Sonata in G minor to be known as the “Devil’s Trill.” The story, apparently told by Tartini himself, recounts how the devil appeared in a dream and played with such passion, that the composer awoke and tried to recapture the Devil’s music.
This Baroque work is still considered to be devilishly difficult to play even today. But to violin virtuoso Ray Chen it was simply a venue for expressing his consummate musicianship. Aided by pianist Inara Zandmane, the nimble fingers of the 22-year-old violinist easily negotiated the treacherous musical landscape that featured double stops at every turn. Chen, who played by memory, immediately caught the character of each of the many sections of the four-movement work.
Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 2 in A, Op. 100 is primarily a work of lyricism. For example, the three-movement composition begins with a gentle Allegro amabile, which is mostly melodic, with some dramatic moments. The second movement is a combination of a slow movement and a faster dance movement in alternating fashion. The Finale is a somewhat relaxed rondo.
Brahms wrote the sonata as a perfect wedding of piano and violin, and Zandmane and Chen were true partners in this lovely performance. Melodies passed easily between the two; when either the violin or piano was in the spotlight, the other musician stepped into the supporting role. Chen’s violin sound was exquisitely romantic; Zandmane’s playing was rich, solid, and warm.
The evening closed with a rather curious work by Dvořák, Terzetto for two violins and viola. The four-movement work was conceived as a piece to be played at home with friends. The technical demands were a bit more than Dvořák’s friends had bargained for, but were just part of music making for Chen and Sitkovetsky (violins) and Scott Rawls, principal violist of the GSO.
The opening movement (called Introduction) features two contrasting characters and moves directly into the Larghetto. The Scherzo brings Dvořák’s folk style to the fore, as this is a furiant, a Bohemian dance with shifting accents. The concluding theme and variations begins in the minor mode, but eventually arrives at the original C major tonality.
This is a work in which all three instruments are almost equal, with Sitkovetsky’s part being a bit more equal. But Rawls and Chen certainly took the spotlight whenever their part was featured. Terrific ensemble and right-on intonation marked this performance by the three masterful musicians.