By Daniel Strawhun, Opinions Editor
The Arianna String Quartet, ensemble-in-residence at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, performed its second concert of the season on November 4 in the Touhill’s Lee theater. The concert, appropriately titled “Russian Melodiya,” featured the chamber music of three Russian composers: Sergei Prokofiev, Nikolay Medtner, and Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
The concert featured musicians John McGrosso, first violin; Julia Sakharova, second violin; Joanna Mendoza, viola; Kurt Baldwin, cello; and Alla Voskoboynikova, piano.
The evening began with Prokofiev’s String Quartet No. 2 in F Major. Composed in 1941 while Prokofiev was living in the city of Nalchik in the Northern Caucasus region, the quartet draws its themes from the folk music traditions of the area. The first movement introduces one such theme, a jubilant, gamboling tune whose plodding rhythm calls to mind an early morning trek through the mountains, lit by the golden rays of the F major key center. The piece then dissolves into the airy mist that comprises the second movement, punctuated by pizzicati (plucked notes) coming from both McGrosso and Sakharova. The third movement momentarily resumes the rhythmic plodding of the first, but is soon carried away into a jagged, triangular frenzy, a section which Prokofiev based off of the traditional folk dance “Getigezhev Ogurbi” of the Caucasus region. The highlight of this third movement was Baldwin’s cello cadenza, played with a deft fluidity.
For Medtner’s Piano Quintet in C Major, the quartet was joined by pianist Alla Voskoboynikova, director of keyboard studies, who regularly collaborates with both the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Arianna String Quartet. Voskoboynikova played with a precision and restraint perfectly fitted to the piece, a classically romantic composition that Medtner considered to be the culmination of his life’s work. Beginning serenely with the first movement marked “Molto placido,” Medtner’s masterpiece relies on understatement and an ostensible simplicity throughout in order convey the grandiosity of its ideas.
After a brief intermission, the concert concluded with an energetic interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 2 in F Major, which gave each musician an opportunity to impress. The audience responded to the final chord of Tchaikovsky’s No. 2 with a sincere and warranted standing ovation.