Beethoven’s chamber music played by Sitkovetsky and Friends

A_E_Bethoven_Emily Cramton_Joseph Karl Stieler .jpg
Emily Cramton
  Staff Writer

The Greensboro Symphony Orchestra kicked off its season last weekend with Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night performances, Friday being the first concert of the popular chamber series. Maestro Dmitry Sitkovetsky was joined by pianist Inara Zandmane and cellist Alex Ezerman in the Recital Hall at UNCG for a fantastic night of Handel and Beethoven.

The night began with Handel’s Violin Sonata no.4 in D Major, an often-performed staple of violin repertoire. The work is short, consisting of four brief but well-defined movements in the time span of about twelve minutes. Composed in 1749, this work was Handel’s final piece of chamber music. It follows the traditional form of the Italian sonata da chiesa, with movements in a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern.

Before he began playing, Sitkovetsky came onstage to introduce the piece and provide context. In the September of 1966, Sitkovetsky became the youngest ever winner of the Prague Concertino Competition for Young Musicians at only age twelve with his performance of Handel’s sonata.

Clearly, this piece is both meaningful and extremely familiar to Sitkovetsky, and that familiarity was evident in his playing. The first movement is marked Adagio, and Sitkovetsky played tenderly and with great awareness, his vibrato warm but not over-present and his phrasing delicate and purposeful. The second movement, the first of two Allegros, served as a nice contrast to the warm melodies of the Adagio. With quick sixteenth note patterns and short notes, the movement was light and playful. Sitkovetsky played it with great efficiency, making the most complex passages look effortless.

The Larghetto third movement returns to a slow melodic line, this one more wistful and longing than the first. Again, Sitkovetsky played delicately, shaping the phrases clearly. The final movement, another Allegro, is similar to the second movement, with a light piano part and many quick runs and dotted rhythms in the solo part. Throughout the whole piece, accompanist Inara Zandmane followed Sitkovetsky’s every tempo fluctuation and phrasing adjustment closely. In all, this short sonata made a lasting impression.

After a brief pause, Maestro Sitkovetsky came onstage again to introduce the second piece ,Beethoven’s seventh Piano Trio in B-flat Major. Beethoven often dedicated pieces to his royal supporters as a way of showing his appreciation, and so this piece was dedicated to the Archduke Rudolf of Austria, earning its nickname, the “Archduke” trio.

Beethoven’s compositional career is often divided into three periods: early, middle, and late. Each period is marked by important events in his life as well as the styles and influences of his compositions. His early period, until about 1802, was heavily influenced by Haydn and Mozart, though he later began to expand his range of influence and experimentation. His middle period, from 1803 to 1814, was marked by the news that he was going deaf, and his works of this time often have themes of struggle and heroism. His late period, from 1815 on, began when he was almost completely deaf and consisted of much experimentation and personal expression that were, in many ways, extremely advanced for the time period.

Composed in 1811, the Archduke Trio came at the later part of Beethoven’s middle period. In four movements, the work begins and ends with allegros, with a quick scherzo and a slow andante cantabile movement in between. The piece provided a nice contrast to the earlier Violin Sonata, as it was a trio with three more equal parts as opposed to one solo. It’s also considerably longer, with a duration of about 45 minutes. The work is expansive and epic in many ways, and it is one of Beethoven’s best known and most complex piano trios.

The first movement opens with a grand, flowing theme in the piano, transitioning to the violin and cello, which play together in harmonies and echoing lines. The movement follows a traditional sonata form, and the melodies in the subjects are spacious and pronounced. The second movement, a shorter, quicker scherzo, is light and energetic, with a bouncy staccato line in the cello providing rhythmic framework. The cantabile movement has an intense depth, and its hymn-like melodies are reaching. With a theme-and-variations format, each section of the movement evolves the established theme, moving further away from home while the harmonic structure remains reliable. The final movement returns to the work’s epic roots, quickly pulling the listener out of the trance of the third movement with a quick rondo. The piece concludes with a presto coda, with all three instruments soaring towards the conclusion.

Throughout the expansive work, Sitkovetsky, Zandmane, and Ezerman played with precise technique and style, combining their great individual virtuosities into a tight ensemble. The three communicated well and efficiently in all the twists and turns in the piece. A chamber group with players of such high caliber is not to be missed, particularly with a great program like the one featured on Friday night.


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