Chaconne (Partita in D minor, BWV 1004)
Sonata No.1 for violin and piano in G, Op.78
Fantasy on themes from The Golden Cockerel
Romance and Hungarian Dance
Song without words
Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin)
Olga Sitkovetsky (piano)
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: 24 September, 2001
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
I am sure Alexander Sitkovetsky’s beautiful tone will be his fame and fortune. His sound is rich but clear, glossy but still full; its creaminess perfectly filled the ideal acoustic of the Wigmore Hall. From the very first note, it was obvious he was a performer who would always please the senses.The Bach movement was, moreover, an ideal vehicle for Sitkovetsky to show his technical command, making light of passagework or double-stopping. This was Romantic Bach, forwardly projected, extrovert, capable indeed; also of intimate pianissimo moments, but sometimes over-reliant on weight of sound.
Olga Sitkovetsky is not only an accomplished and experienced accompanist; she is also Alexander’s mother. Of Brahms’s three sonatas, the G major is the most asymmetrical in terms of duo-writing – its song-like character often denoted by a string melody accompanied by piano figurations. Nevertheless, there was a definite sense of Mme Sitkovetsky lacking – or denying herself – as strong a musical character as her son, of being content to give the piece structure and rhythmical discipline at the expense of real engagement with what thus became the solo instrument.
The sheen on Sitkovetsky’s tone made an attractive beginning to the sonata; however, there was no change in it to accommodate the piano’s aural image. A sound rather more silvery and less golden would have integrated the two instruments better, especially as Brahms’s piano writing is frequently intricate and complex. Instead, rather like a pianist who finds security in over-pedalling, Sitkovetsky was inclined to let the strength and lushness of his tone carry him through the music. Overall, the first movement was beautiful more than intense; the performers were reluctant to let themselves go in the dramatic development section, the piano keener to maintain a painstaking rhythmical pulse than to charm independently or to fully dialogue with the violin.
The slow movement was interpreted as a violin aria, the piano again quite reticent in its substantial solo passages. Sitkovetsky’s violin sang beautifully, but with a certain lack of dramatic tension; although, at the reprise, the accompaniment’s weave around the melody was magical, there remained a question mark – what was theoretically a well-considered balance of sound still had inequality of scale or presence. The third movement was lyrical to the point of indulgence. The piano perfectly imitated, rather than answered, the violin’s initial theme, and then provided an exemplary watery accompaniment, but one so tranquil as to be without the least ripple. Above this the violin soared (and most soulfully in the second episode) but never quite penetrated into the music’s profundity or many-sidedness.
Much Romantic repertoire has been revived in recent years; its Russian violin version took up most of the second half. It was music to be enjoyed more than analysed, and also an appropriate taster for Sitkovetsky’s debut CD, currently launching on EMI/Angel. Ironically, the emotional balance between violin and piano was immediately improved – Mme Sitkovetsky’s supportive, self-effacing pianism better suited in music that suits Sitkovetsky’s unashamed virtuosity.
There were many individual felicities in the pieces – an expertly sentimental delivery of the characteristic Kreisler scoops and sweeps in the Tchaikovsky arrangement, or the pianist’s sensitivity and bell-like tone in the Gliere. The music itself was never less than attractive, although there was a definite gain in fluency in those pieces originally written for the violin.
Ravel’s Tzigane made an impressive finale, even if the negotiation between Sitkovetsky’s very masculine, forceful approach (particularly in his fine playing of the opening cadenza) and the cooler wit of Olga was not perfect. Tzigane benefited from her calmness and sense of structure and his dash and commitment. At times, there was an exemplary match; above all at the end, headlong, yet still controlled.
As a showcase for Sitkovetsky’s evident talent, I can have no complaints about his programme: as an exposition of the art of combining violin and piano, it pains me to be critical about a work central to the duo repertoire. Alexander Sitkovetsky has passion, enthusiasm and ability. He even has an impeccable musical family lineage. It will be no surprise if he goes on to glittering success. I hope that the years ahead will also bring more innigkeit, variety of style, and depth.