Students and community members who attended Bartók and the Balkans at 8 p.m. in Brooks-Rogers last Friday were rewarded with an evocative and eclectic mix of string music from Eastern Europe. Presented by Edward Gollin, associate professor of music, violinist Joana Genova and friends performed compositions of Béla Bartók, Georgi Zlatev-Cherkin, Petar Christoskov and Pancho Vladigerov.
Genova was joined by Joel Pitchon on second violin, Ariel Rudiakov on viola and Ronald Feldman on cello to perform Bartók’s String Quartet no. 2, Op.17. Three movements varied in tempo and form, but shared currents of poignant sorrow. Moments of high-pitched violin against rapid tempos in minor keys punctuated calm, mournful sections with feelings of urgency, perhaps even fear. The quartet demonstrated extraordinary skill, utilizing unusual techniques and maintaining synchronization and poise throughout the most difficult sections. An intermission followed, allowing the already shocked audience to recover from an intense first performance.
After the break, Genova returned alone to thank her colleagues for their dedication to Bartók, stating, “I think it deserves to be heard more often, it just doesn’t … because it is very difficult.” Moving and heartfelt, the speech exposed the dedication of those who choose to pursue atypical classical music. Elizabeth Wright joined Genova on piano to play a series of short Romanian folk dances collected by Bartók. The lighthearted, quick songs added pleasant variety to the evening, particularly after Bartók’s more emotionally charged original work.
After the folk dances, the program moved away from Bartók to explore other Balkan composers. Genova described Zlatev-Cherkin’s Sevdana as the story of lost love. One of the best pieces of the night, Sevdana opened with beautiful, melancholy notes from Wright’s piano. Genova joined on violin, echoing the forlorn piano with slow strokes. Crescendos built tension and desperation, followed by soft quiet resolutions that evoked despair. Twinkling piano contrasted the minor key of Genova’s violin, reaching higher and higher notes that seemed tragic. Ending with extremely low piano, Sevdana denied all hope for its fated subjects.
Before her next performances, two caprices for solo violin composed by Christoskov, Genova described Bulgarian traditions to the audience. She explained Christoskov’s use of odd rhythms and time signatures, which Bulgarians grow up with but foreigners find unusual and difficult to master. She explained Christoskov’s aims to imitate the various instruments and sounds found at Bulgarian festivals, demonstrating his imitations of bagpipes, girls’ voices and recorders on her violin. While one may appreciate Christokov’s efforts to replicate the diverse sounds of a village dance, his techniques could be unpleasant, sometimes creating screeches and scratches. While not the most audibly pleasing works of the night, the caprices did showcase Genova’s impeccable versatility and skill given their technical difficulty. The second of the caprices, titled Short Toccata featured melody notes interspersed with foundational notes played so quickly it sounded as if Genova played two violins.
The night ended with two works by Vladigerov, “everybody’s favorite Bulgarian composer,” according to Genova. Beginning on bright notes, Song from Opus 29 then settled into a more serious and beautiful tone, moving effortlessly between brighter and calmer notes throughout the piece. Humoresque followed the sincere song with a less serious, flirtatious tone. The audience enthusiastically enjoyed both pieces.
Genova ended the show with “every Bulgarian’s favorite piece, a staple of Bulgarian literature,” Bulgarian Rhapsody Vardar, Op. 16 by Vladigerov. The bright song had a patriotic, triumphant tone, much like a national anthem. Genova seemed to sincerely enjoy the rich sound, moving her body with the music. Expressive and varied, the piece moved between styles, building and resolving energies with crescendos and diminuendos. The rhapsody ended to a standing ovation. Genova and Wright then exited the stage, returning moments later to overwhelming audience applause. They performed a rousing Italian piece by composer Vittorio Monti entitled Csárdás, culminating in a dramatic end to a night of stirring and thoughtful music.