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The Agony And The Affability

New York
BargeMusic, at Fulton Ferry, Brooklyn
07/12/2008 -  July 13, at 4pm
Sergei Prokofiev: Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in F minor, Opus 80
Alfred Schnittke: Sonata No. 1 for Cello and Piano
Anton Arensky: Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Opus 32

Mark Peskanov (Violin), Adrian Daurov (Cello), Anya Alexeyev (Piano)

M. Peskanov, A. Alexeyev, A. Daurov (© Harry Rolnick)

Since the BargeMusic concert hall sits atop the waves of New York’s East River, one may as well generate a riverine metaphor for the splendid concert last night. The first half was equivalent to being on a defenseless pontoon in the middle of the Sulu Sea, at the mercy of every lascar, pirate, privateer, venomous jellyfish and famished shark.. The second half ttansformed the pontoon to the Queen Mary, sailing around unhindered through the Caribbean Sea, with cocktails at our fingertips, careless waltzes in our ears, and not a care in the world.

To explain. The three expat Russian artists who performed at BargeMusic last night (and will repeat this afternoon) began with the prickliest works possible by two great Russian composers, Prokofiev and Schnittke. The music was exciting, scary, daunting for the players and of almost manic intensity for the full house of listeners.

After the intermission came a trio by Arensky, one of the “European” Russians. Arensky is best known these days for producing a theme from which Tchaikovsky extracted charming variations. But in his own right, Arensky was an assured technician with pleasing songs, and music which makes few demands on the listener. It’s a kind of musical cruise ship.

But now onto the players, all of them famed in their own way. They may be different in temperament. But perhaps because of their status as young Russian expats who have already made names for themselves, their ensemble work was far better than one could imagine.

The Arensky was long and corny, but putting aside thoughts of profundity, the performers made it fun. Both violinist and cellist took the themes with graceful articulation, passing lyric lines between them like master soccer players, while Ms. Alexeyev tied it all together. The fact that it was all too perfect could have made it boring, but with such strong playing, the very perfection of the piece was rewarding enough.

That first half, though, showed these players as soloists in their own right. Mark Peskanov has made an astonishing name for himself, not least of which is the recipient of the first Issac Stern Award. He is also President and Artistic Director of BargeMusic, but his performance is hardly an example of nepotism. For when he essayed Prokofiev’s bleak anxious First Sonata, he held the four taut movements together like coiled wire. Yes, he has the technique to make that first movement “ghosts in a graveyard” pianissimo passage come alarmingly alive. But nothing in this work was anything less than prickly, even the slow movement knetic..

It was violin with a heavy sound, yet the energy was galvanizing , and Ms. Alexeyev contributed with great octave playing throughout.

Where one feels that Prokofiev was a sterling actor who made us believe in bleakness, the late Alfred Schnittke was the real thing. His grim sonata has become a favorite of cellists, but the dissonances—large sections are increasing minor seconds on cello and piano, making a most uncomfortable tapesxtry—were built up by Adrian Daurov with the most serious intent.

This was the first time I had heard the work live, and it came as a revelation, since recordings tend to wash away either the piano or cello. In the fine acoustics of BargeMusic, the balance was excellent, and the woeful three-movement requiem was played with a fierce, even exhausting commitment.

Harry Rolnick



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