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Setting Foot on Russian Soil

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

As our motto (in the banner above) states, we steer clear of politics here at Ionarts. So we appreciate this aspect of the work done by the Embassy Series, what it calls "musical diplomacy": hosting concerts at embassies around Washington, even when international events might heighten tensions. Thus Friday night's concert by cellist Adrian Daurov, hosted at the Embassy of the Russian Federation, went ahead, even though the situation between Russian and Ukraine was going from bad to worse. Since the idea is to listen to music without politics mixed in, we could have done without the pre-concert speech from the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, who said something like what he said later in the weekend on American television about Russia's intentions with regard to eastern Ukraine. Just let the music speak for itself.

Daurov did his advanced studies at Juilliard and now makes his home in New York, where he is principal cellist of the Chamber Orchestra of New York. In a short program, played without intermission, he offered what seemed like an encore first, an arrangement by M. Bukinik of Lensky's aria from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. He has an intense, song-like tone, most beautiful in the pianissimo statement of this famous tune, with just a slight strain at full volume. Beethoven's Variations on Bei Männern, the duet of Papageno and Pamina from Mozart's Magic Flute, started a little slow but picked up by the fun and syncopated first variation. There were a few rough edges in the second variation, and Daurov's intonation high on the A string was not always quite true in the last two variations, but his low range was somber and viscous in the minor variation.

Schumann's Fantasiestücke, op. 73, demanded more of Daurov's collaborator, pianist Di Wu, and her steely touch at the keyboard drove the first movement ahead, drawing Daurov along with her, although at times she seemed slightly rushed in the finale. Both musicians played easily with a quicksilver rubato in the second movement, which was kept light and airy, with its chromatic turns reminiscent of Schubert's song Die Forelle. The high point was the big, brawny cello sonata (G minor, op. 19) of Sergei Rachmaninov, opening with the sighing half-step motifs of the cello answered by the piano, a Lento introduction followed by yearning phrases in the Allegro section of the first movement, especially the arch-Romantic second theme. Again it was Wu whose technical acumen impressed most, for example, in the sort of cadenza for the piano that leads to the recapitulation. Every time I have heard this piece -- from Gautier Capuçon and Gabriela Montero, from Steven Isserlis and Kirill Gerstein -- it has grown on me, especially the second-movement scherzo, with its echoes of Schubert's Erlkönig. If Wu's range of color was limited in the third movement, the piano-only introduction a little prosaic, the fourth movement benefited the brash side of her playing, leading to a thrilling conclusion. A single encore, a medley of smarmy tunes by Burt Bacharach, seemed to suit the embassy's white grand piano, which fits right in with the hall's Rococo decoration, although it was a little out of tune in the treble register.

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