Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Bella Davidovich appeared in concert at the National Gallery of Art on April 18, 2004.
On the first full-fledged summer day of the year, gloriously sunny and warm, an appropriately glorious name lured flocks of listeners to the National Gallery's 2493rd free Sunday concert: Dmitry Sitkovetsky and Bella Davidovich, playing Beethoven, Grieg, Mozart, and Ravel violin sonatas. A sizable Russian contingent (sprinkled with some Georgians and perhaps Azerbaijanis) warmly welcomed their compatriot and Baku native Bella Davidovich who plunged immediately into Beethoven's first work in the repertoire of the violin sonata, the Sonata no. 1 in D major, op. 12, no. 1 (1797).
Mr. Sitkovetsky, with an astoundingly impeccable haircut (no small feat for classical musicians, if I may add) and extraordinary neatly trimmed beard, stood erectly and with most economic movement as he played the piece, charged with energy and brio. No cheap frills and thrills, no unnecessary gesticulation or mimicking that so many artists feel is necessary to convey emotion. In a sense not unlike Horowitz who—in stark contrast to his sound—sat in front of the piano with less motion than it takes other people to solve a crossword puzzle.
Stephen Ackert's program notes told the audience all they really needed to know about this somewhat limited but perfectly solid and wonderful work. The sonata, for one, goes to show why we speak of works of the "early Beethoven" rather than of "immature Beethoven works." The second movement of variations, in particular, is quite delectable.
The Grieg Violin Sonata no. 3 in C minor (90 years younger than Beethoven's) is, as Mr. Ackert, head of the music department at the NGA, points out, a good example of the Norwegian folk traditions with which Edvard Grieg imbued most his works composed after 1864. If there was any determination and furor in the Beethoven, it was now reactivated by the bold opening of the Norwegian's work. "Broadly dramatic" is quite right, and the fluctuations between the lyrical and the fierce, brash, and brusque are pronounced. The first movement then, is appropriately named Allegro molto ad appassionato.
The chiseled, stoic face of Mr. Sitkovetsky, his demeanor (despite the appassionato and dramatic Romanticism) fit perfectly. Nordic vigor as one would expect to come right out of a Henrik Ibsen play. Bella Davidovich, meanwhile, gave wonderful support, mastering the few technical difficulties with ease and struggling—if with anything at all—with the acoustics.
The second movement of the Grieg, harkening back to some of his lyrical pieces for piano, is really a song without words; Espressivo alla romanza is beautiful to hear, if not self-evidently coherent. At the high, single, and endlessly held violin note at the end, a cacophonous cough concerto broke out in the back that gave reason to worry. Allegro animato (speedy animals), the third movement that returned to a somewhat more brooding, meddling sound—despite the dancing and swirly notes on the exterior—subdued them quickly. An excitably foaming finale closed a wonderful first half of a most noteworthy concert to enthusiastic applause.
Edvard Grieg, violin sonatas, Sitkovetsky and Davidovich
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Ravel, complete works for piano and violin, Sitkovetsky and Davidovich
The first movement (Allegro) ends entirely abruptly, as thought Herr Mozart had just had enough of it. Thrown down like a glove. But the glove gets picked back up by the second movement, which is similar in its description and structure to Beethoven's Thema con variazioni (Andante). Compared to the preceding movement, this one was more felt and less original. Mr. Sitkovektsky's tone glided through the notes like a ship plows through calm water, undeterred and with a goal in mind. The resonance unfortunately relegated Mme. Davidovich to a less prominent role than she deserved. With too many notes swimming into each other, it simply wasn't possible to make much of the amiable accompaniment. Her elegant fingers, part of a wholly elegant appearance made it, at any rate, a pure joy to watch this veritable full-blood musician at work.
Forgettable as the Mozart may have been, the Ravel was not. The piano part in this piece is an equal partner and not mere accompaniment, and Mr. Sitkovetsky's tone was perfectly suited to the difficult acoustics and Mme. Davidovich's pedal-sparse playing left most parts audible. After three pieces of varyingly challenging ear candy, Ravel was refreshing in how he makes no concessions to the conventions of the listener.
The first movement (Allegretto) is ended on a similar note as the Grieg second movement. Rough pizzicatos await the Blues: Moderato second movement with its pleasant syncopated rhythms. If this movement smacks of his marvelous (and unfortunately only) string quartet, the third is a fiendishly difficult little thing on perpetual motion that made Mr. Sitkovetsky shine with natural brilliance. Unfazed, he fiddled them off his violin as if it were a walk on the beach. The finale of high-powered "violin scrubbing" came quick and impressively. Immediate standing ovations are genuine and not just show.
The almost predictable encore was something from the musical palate of the performers and many audience members: Tchaikovsky's Song Without Words, as arranged by Fritz Kreisler. To an enjoyably quiet crowd, that dose of Russian-composed music (if itself not all too Russian) hit the spot. But a little more, still, was to follow after more applause. This time a bit of an American flavor. Jascha Heifetz's arrangement of Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So": this "Big Muddy" of a song was suddenly endowed with a quicksilver spirit, and Mr. Sitkovetsky showed his unfailing taste in playing and repertoire choice, as well as his unfailing taste in pleasing an audience, without artistically stooping even the least bit.