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S & H Recital Review

Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Sarasate, Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin) and The Russian Virtuosi of Europe, Wigmore Hall, Sunday 6 June 2004, 7pm (AN)

 

J S Bach Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041
Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence Op 70
(Interval)
J S Bach Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G BWV 1048
Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D minor
Sarasate Zigeunerweisen "Gypsy Aire" Op 20

 

The foyer of the Wigmore Hall was buzzing with excitement and anticipation. Young musicians with instruments in hand punctuated the animated crowd and there was no shortage of students (past and present) from the Academy and Menuhin School – two musical establishments that nurtured the rise of the talented violinist and soloist, Alexander Sitkovetsky.

A mere 21 years of age, Sitkovetsky takes to the role of soloist like a duck to water – but this is unsurprising when we consider a solo career that dates back to 1991 with the chamber orchestra in Montpellier and, following that, performances with the late Lord Menuhin, numerous international musical festivals, prestigious venues across the globe (including the Royal Festival Hall and Amsterdam Concertgebouw) and recently a second CD release for EMI/Angel records.

Launching with the Bach made for an electrifying opening. The 11-strong Russian Virtuosi formed a semi-circle around the soloist and the drama that ensued was played out in both musical and visual terms. A pity, therefore, that the clarity and incisiveness of a well conceived opening movement was marred somewhat by sharp intonation from the lower regions of the ensemble.

The same hitch afflicted the Andante, where the magical atmosphere was compromised in the orchestral tutti by intonation trouble in the bass. And yet in spite of this flaw, one could not fail to indulge in Sitkovetsky’s honeyed tone and haunting serenity.

Thankfully, by the Allegro Assai, cellos and bass had exorcised their intonation demons. Sitkovetsky’s effortless fingerwork was matched by an athleticism and togetherness from the Russian Virtuosi members (all successful award-winning instrumentalists beyond their duties with this 2003-inaugurated group). Definitely the high-point of this opening item.

For the ensuing Tchaikovsky chamber-piece, the Russian Virtuosi stripped-down to a sextet with two of each instrument: violin, viola and cello. Lead violinist Yuri Zhislin threw himself into the rustic manoeuvres of the Allegro con spirito with a ravenous appetite. Where Mr Zhislin succeeded in braving the chaotic textures, however, his cello interlocutor did not: the result was a one-sided argument.

As the movement went on, the performances grew stronger and more assured. Nevertheless, for all the accomplished individual contributions, there lacked a real sense of unity. During the fugal passages, for instance, the junctures and voice-interrelationships were hard to discern. And more obviously, melodies struggled to be heard above the densely packed textural operations.

Balance was restored in the solemn Adagio cantabile e con moto with charming violin and cello dialogues over a delicate pizzicato backdrop. The viola brushed a bolder tone that stood its ground in brazen defiance. Entirely appropriate, therefore, that the viola should carry the tune for the folk-like Allegretto moderato.

Like a train chugging away, the speedy Allegro vivace propelled us into a world of densely packed ideas and imitation. Mixing repose (on unison, held notes) with cheeky gestures and utter frenzy – that at one point resembles uncannily the insanity of Beethoven's Grosse Fugue quartet – was no obstacle for this accomplished set of musicians.

How better to recover from the intensity of the Tchaikovsky with Bach’s beloved Brandenburg Concerto No.3? As with the A minor concerto at the start of the concert: sensitive balance, perfect poise and clean, vibrant articulation. Sadly, much of this momentum was lost in the Allegro that rather took the performers by surprise, or so it seemed. Heralded by a delightful quasi-improvised tune on Mr Zhislin’s violin, the ensemble stumbled into the accelerated pace but, on the strength of the violin and viola leads, made it to the finish line in one piece!

Next, the eagerly awaited Mendelssohn D minor violin concerto. Mr Sitkovetsky did not disappoint. An affirmative introduction from the orchestra announced an impeccable solo. Shiny-smooth scalic work, nuanced with great emotion, rendered a depth of feeling that is hard to communicate given the technical innocence and naivety of the notes in themselves. Mr Sitkovetsky is without a doubt a wonderful musician.

In the Andante especially one really appreciated the impact of the Russian Virtuosi whose strength and vitality lies in a collaboration of their individual musical personalities. The violin solo cadenzas rose out of this rich soundscape to meditate upon musical figures with exhilarating spontaneity.

Hardly a moment’s rest in the rondo finale, with humorous gesticulations from our soloist who only just stopped short of breaking into dance! Such a performance could only be followed by the showmanship of Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. Mr Sitkovetsky delivered the introduction with gratifyingly thick sounds and indulgent ornamentations. The quick-paced round off kept us all on our toes!

For an encore: the Mendelssohn final movement a second time. Fabulous.

Aline Nassif


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