Russian performers move all over map

by Christopher McMullen-Laird | 10/29/01 6:00am

Four stands were placed in a random setup on the stage, when seemingly premature applause greeted cellist Dimitry Khrychev after intermission. Then, terrifically awkward screeching offstage started "Antiphonies" a 1968 composition by Sergey Slonimsky. The three other members of the Nevsky Quartet slowly wandered onto the stage, playing as they walked.

What ensued was an example of new music at its best. Players rotated from one stand to another, tapped their bows on their instruments' endpieces, engaged in scattered tone debates and served the audience several bitter glissandi. Perfectly Halloween.

The Russian quartet traveled here with five other musicians from St. Petersburg. In a pitifully programmed mlange of short pieces, they managed to capture a great deal of the excitement that is hidden in Russian compositions.

The program was weak because its content was all over the map of music history -- and unorganized, on top of that. The final movement of Dvorak's "American" followed by a tiny Romance, then the intriguing Scribian Sonata and to top it off, Rossini. Why not? Despite the frequent shifts in focus, the performance (especially Tatiana Bezzubenkova's astounding accompaniment) was enjoyable.

The singers suffered from some technical difficulties. Ms. Kovaliova started the evening with a deeply emotional Rachmaninov "Romance" that was beyond her lung capacity. Despite her interruptions of the melodic line, her expressive, yet meager, tone quality didn't falter during her solo work.

Mr. Migunov had different struggles. He will make a fine career after his voice looses its raspy coarseness. This unfortunate circumstance destroys many young male singers and is hopefully a matter of time until he will improve this fault. His range is frighteningly low and, raspy or not, it will suit the stage in due time.

His duet with Kovaliova, however, was not ripe. Neither singer had memorized the piece, limiting their sense of uniform texture and pitch. This was embarrassingly apparent in the unison passages.

Paval Popov played Poddubny's Dramatic Capriccio, a piece that could have come from Gil Shahan's "Devil's Trill" album. Virtuosic appeal -- as the audience witnessed with this obsessively flashy piece -- has brought many an obscure composer into the light via the violin recital encore. Nothing could have suited the Halloween theme better.

Mr. Popov was also the soloist of the evening's closing piece, the last movement of an innovative violin concerto -- the quartet replaced the orchestra and Piotr Laul tackled the piano part. The French composer, Ernest Chausson, wrote the lively opening for the piano. After that, the tricky violin part left little room for other flavor or embellishment.

A melancholic theme dominates the composition and weaves through the intricate solo line. The lighter middle section brings surprising pizzicati in the strings and choppy chords for the piano. The piece finished with vigorous technical display and extraordinary bravura.

The musicians continue their tour this week in New York.

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