The concert was benignly titled "Russia Revisited" - in what turned out to be gracious window dressing for a Dolce Suono Ensemble concert that stopped at nothing to find the depths of the Slavic psyche.
The Sunday program at Curtis Institute's Gould Rehearsal Hall spanned more than 21/2 hours with no real intermissions and none of the usual Prokofiev/Shostakovich pieces. I wasn't sure I could take any more when Charles Abramovic concluded the program with Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 6 - a nest of angry, war-inspired dissonances played by Abramovic with complete comprehension and near-blinding clarity.
But nobody said concerts always must be pleasant. All programs should have this much to say and say it so well. The pieces leading up to the Prokofiev sonata (by far the best-known work) did indeed have significant common characteristics to create a psychological composite.
Folk-inspired melody often lay at the core of these works, sometimes to lead you into the piece while naturally acting as a vehicle of anguish. Tunes also acted as cultural objects that existed to be violently interrupted. Ideas didn't track fluidly. Pieces concluded with little sense of resolution.
Cases in point: Shostakovich's Sonata for Viola and Piano, written at the end of a tortured creative life with his distinctive brand of quiet, jocular bitterness. The composer was in "holy fool" mode, starting with a doggerel-style tune, plucked rather than bowed and leading, before you knew it, to artistic real estate not far from the plays of Samuel Beckett. The performance by Burchard Tang caught much of the music's enigmatic mystery, while Abramovic found huge implications in the severely pared-back keyboard writing.
Mieczeslaw Weinberg's long-forgotten Five Pieces for Flute and Piano, written in 1948 shortly before Stalin's renewed artistic crackdowns and played here in its U.S. premiere, used Debussy near-quotations as the first-movement's smoke screen that lowered your guard. Subsequent movements were ostensibly dance music but with little of that implied levity, the flute - played mightily by Dolce Suono founder Mimi Stillman - often acted as a musical island amid extremes expressed by the keyboard.
Two locally based pieces filled out the program, including the world premiere of Sonata for Flute and Piano by the ever-provocative veteran composer David Finko. Born in Russia and based here, he reminds us that what Americans call non sequiturs are part of the never-rest-easy Russian temperament. Still, much of his new sonata felt obscure. Is there a revision in its future?
Most congenial was Sonata for Flute and Piano written by Yevgeniy Sharlat for Stillman when both were Curtis Institute students - and it's a perfectly accomplished work; it has Russian bumps in the road but also a more extroverted American desire for immediate communication.