Friday, January 22, 2010

To Russia with Love

On Jan. 22 Vancouver cellist Eugene Osadchy was back from his teaching job at Dallas's University of Northern Texas to play for Vetta, the music series he co-founded 20-odd years ago. It's still running and deserves to be with its fine programs of chamber music which mean that the people close to the Endowment Lands of UBC have less often to go downtown to take in a concert.
It was an all-Russian program with the series' artistic director and violinist Joan Blackman and the virtuosic young Russian pianist Anastasia Markina, and it was a beauty. I've never heard a better concert from Vetta.
Aside from Sergei Prokofiev's Cinq Melodies for piano and violin and Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Trio Elegiac, Osadchy and Markina played Dmitri Shostakovich's lone cello sonata, and this was the highlight for me in a program that was consistently played with passion and artistry. Even the long early Rachmaninov trio was beautiful, making me wonder why I've never particularly liked it. But then I'd never heard it scaled so perfectly. For the first time, it seemed to make perfect sense.
Once again I wondered what it is--aside from having, I suppose, a naturally dark predisposition--that makes me particularly receptive to Russian music. I don't mean I enjoy only Russian music. A tango or a rhythm from Latin America can make me think it was only an accident of birth that put me in this hemisphere, or a piece by Edvard Grieg or Einojuhani Rautavaara will make me powerfully nostalgic for those latitudes. This is the power of music as it ought to be. It can and should dislocate you and make you feel a stranger in your own part of the world.
But the music of Russia is the most consistent in exerting this tidal pull on my aesthetic emotions: Tchaikovsky's overwhelmingly beautiful and balletic music (scales, basically), the color and plains-like spatial sense of Alexander Borodin, the splendidly brooding music of Rachmaninov, the athletic and daring harmonic clashes of Prokofiev, the braininess of Igor Stravinsky, and the virtually autobiographical music of Shostakovich, a composer who was impossible to silence though he was the most harassed of all under the apparatchiks of Joseph Stalin ... these are only the most obvious of the names I love.
The Cello Sonata was written in the afterglow of Shostakovich's scandalous opera, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which was famous—for a short while before getting the most frightening official review of the composer's life. The sonata is unforgettable. Primarily lyrical as it is, it's clear that there are thoughts going on.

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