The 2012-13 Greensboro Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks season came to a close Thursday evening in War Memorial Auditorium. The large audience was treated to two violin concertos; Bach’s Concerto for two violins in D Minor, BWV 1043, and Mendelssohn’s in E Minor, Op. 64. Alexander Sitkovetsky, GSO Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky’s cousin, served as the wonderful soloist. Also on tap was Symphony “10” by Beethoven; more about this “10th” later.
Both Sitkovetskys were the soloists for Bach’s concerto (often referred to as the “double”). This is a magnificent work, with florid counterpoint (independent lines) throughout. Senior Sitkovetsky initiated the work with a lively Vivace tempo which took a couple of measures to find its groove, but once the orchestra and soloists got together, it was a romp.
Both violinists played with verve and sensitivity; when one had the main tune, the other backed off. But there was also a healthy one-upmanship as each jumped into the fray, trying to outdo the last statement. The middle movement is the heart, an exquisite respite between two lively excursions. Both Sitkovetskys played with restrained gentleness.
A word about the orchestra: it was much smaller than is usual for a GSO concert, and a harpsichord was present, lending an historic authenticity. Still, there were probably twice as many strings as needed. D. Sitkovetsky sometimes directed the group when he was not playing, but I’m not sure they needed it.
Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto is the first great romantic concerto for the instrument (unless you count Beethoven’s). This performance showcased the talent of Alexander Sitkovetsky and was marked by colorful playing from all sections of the orchestra. The young soloist displayed wonderful intonation, sensitive phrasing, and lovely lyricism.
His virtuosic playing (heard almost continuously in the first and third movements and in the cadenza) was spectacular. The elfin-like third movement especially showcased arabesques wrapped around orchestral tunes and fiendish fiddling.
The appreciative audience was treated to an unaccompanied encore: the slow Sarabande from Bach’s D minor Partita, S 1004. This work revealed a more interior landscape, an almost painful beauty that Sitkovetsky generously shared with the crowd. At the conclusion, the violinist received the best response possible — several seconds of hushed silence.
The second half of the concert featured a single work, the “10th” symphony by Beethoven, which turned out to be four movements from four different symphonies: I: Allegro vivace from No. 8, II: Andante molto mosso from No. 6, III: Scherzo from No. 3, and IV: Allegro ma non troppo from No. 4. The overall arrangement was as Beethoven had intended: each movement occupied the corresponding location in the original symphony. However, the coherence stops there.
Combining single movements into a “new” symphony subverts the composer’s intentions. Beethoven conceived of his symphonies as organic entities, often stating motifs at the outset of the symphony only to be recalled in later movements. And the key structure of the movements was extremely important as well: he intended for the change of keys to take the listener on a structured musical journey. All of that was lost in this performance.
The attempt to create a new way of hearing these movements is to be applauded, but to conclude a season with a concocted symphony seems somehow a little disappointing. That being said, the GSO played with a lot of energy and feeling, filling the music with humor, bluster, and beauty.