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15.6.11

Chornobyl-Fukushima Benefit Concert

On last Thursday evening at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York City, one Japanese and two Ukrainian musicians donated their services to benefit victims of the nuclear disasters at Chornobyl and Fukushima, with a concert sponsored by the Music at the Institute (MATI) series. The Ukrainian Institute is housed in the grand Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion that was sold by Sinclair after the Teapot Dome Scandal in the 1920s. Its grand parlor overlooking the tree tops of Central Park provides a wonderfully authentic venue for chamber music. The program comprised works for violin, piano, and cello, performed respectively by Solomiya Ivakhiv, Valentina Lisitsa, and Kaori Yamagami.

This being the 25th anniversary year of the Chornobyl tragedy and with the Fukushima Daiichi disaster so recent, the tone of the concert was shaded darkly, and the musicians chose works to reflect this feeling. Musically, these disasters were brought to our shores as if without knowing any details: one sensed a dimension of personal loss and grief from the musicians through their playing.

Pianist Valentina Lisitsa played through the entire first half of the program uninterrupted by applause. High points included Schubert's song Gute Nacht, transcribed for piano solo by Liszt, which began darkly yet for a brief while moved into major, showing hints of Lisztian pianism. Ravel's Ondine from Gaspard de la Nuit was suspended and clear, while Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat, op. 9 -- a popular piece for intermediate piano students -- was sweetly delicate with the twirling notes at the end executed without hesitation. Lisitsa ended the first half of the program with Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, which despite the pianist's captivating playing, after a while seemed of less musical quality than her previous selections.

German-based cellist Kaori Yamagami seemingly approached Bach's Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor with the intention of emulating the warm sound of the viola da gamba with gut strings. With limited vibrato and technique to spare, faster movements were quick and light, while slower movements were beautifully phrased.

Violinist and Artistic Director of the MATI series Solomiya Ivakhiv joined Lisitsa in Franck's Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major. Ivakhiv produced an old tone from her violin while adding unusual portamenti, convincing rubato, and a fast narrow vibrato used as a lyrical tool that fit this piece perfectly. Although sometimes losing the full connection of her bow to her strings, Ivakhiv conveyed the element of fantasia in this work beautifully. Ivakhiv nicely played figurations to accompany the piano in the fiendishly difficult Allegro molto second movement. In perfect tempo, the final Allegretto poco mosso movement's memorable tune soared freely and elegantly.

The author acknowledges the financial assistance of the MATI series, which made it possible for him to cover this concert.

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