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Music Review: Yelena Grinberg and Serafim Smigelskiy at the Players Club (New York), 7/22/2011

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A sprightly C Major cello sonata by Luigi Boccherini made a pleasing palate-whetter at an intimate Harvardwood-sponsored concert by two Russian-born musicians, pianist Yelena Grinberg and cellist Serafim Smigelskiy, last night at the Players Club. Under the watchful oil-on-canvas eyes of the likes of Edwin Booth as Richard III and Nance O’Neil as Lady Macbeth, Ms. Grinberg and Mr. Smigelskiy showed they’re each talented and charismatic enough not to wilt under the dark gazes of such legendary thespians; the cellist’s rich, warm tones in the first movement of the Boccherini and flying sixteenth notes in the third were more than enough to wake us from the 104-degree stupor we’d come in from (it was record-breaking weather outside).

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The real drama of the program commenced with Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3, Opus 69. Dating from the composer’s brilliantly productive middle period, it represents the full flowering of his development of the once-staid sonata form into a true duet vehicle. In the Allegro, stormy sections interspersed with passages of exquisite loveliness given extra sweetness by Ms. Grinberg’s sensitive touch. The Scherzo’s leaping rhythms brought to my mind the angular middle movement of the “Moonlight Sonata,” while the final movement slid smoothly from its Adagio prologue into its Allegro main body; passages imperceptibly moved from one instrument to the other in total rhythmic lockstep. I was surprised to learn that these two musicians don’t play together regularly; their four hands could have belonged to one person, that’s how integrated they were.

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The Beethoven performance was thrilling and eye-opening enough that Brahms’ second cello sonata in F Major—the main reason I’d come to the concert—was almost anticlimactic; it came off very well, but the Beethoven was still resonating with me even after the short intermission. The musicians rendered the fast and furious but somewhat cerebral first movement of the Brahms with rich texture; the third movement, “Allegro passionato,” came off as almost high-spirited at moments, or as much so as Brahms normally gets, the musicians executing its churning off-beat accents with assurance. And the complex harmonies of the closing Rondo left us with much to think about.

I look forward to witnessing further collaborations between these two excellent young musicians—with or without a heat wave to flee.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.