Last Tuesday’s Suzuki and Friends’ Laureate concert turned into an evening of firsts. For the first time, the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis-sponsored chamber series sold out at the Indiana History Center. For the first time, the two finest past IVCI laureates, 1994 silver medalist Stefan Milenkovich and 1998 gold medalist Judith Ingolfsson, teamed to form an exquisite violin duo. For the first time, the series melded Baroque and modern fare to produce a five-star event — an evening to remember.
1994 IVCI silver medalist Stefan Milenkovich performed to a sold-out house last Tuesday.
For their first offering, violinist Hidetaro Suzuki and series co-founder Zeyda Ruga Suzuki were joined by flutist Robin Peller and a small string complement for Bach’s magnificent Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050. Playing a piano rather than the usual harpsichord (on which she’s equally adept), Mrs. Suzuki added a subtle degree of pianistic shaping to an otherwise fully articulated Baroque pulse. Her lines interweaving with those of Peller and Mr. Suzuki created a succession of balanced first-movement textures well nigh perfect in their delivery — leading to probably the world’s first (stringed) keyboard cadenza. Here Mrs. Suzuki made her instrument sound like both a harpsichord and a piano, bringing forth the best timbres of each. Our players maintained this level in the two final movements, in turn maintaining Bach’s musical intensity. From Bach to Prokofiev, the two-century jump worked because the Russian/Soviet composer’s Sonata in C for Two Violins, Op. 56 (1932) had Ingolfsson and Milenkovich doing his honors. Each of Prokofiev’s three movements demonstrated each player’s tonal beauty, coupled with perfect restraint and a near-perfect match of timbres. Even their brusque pulsations in the third movement produced a lyric afterglow. The Suzuki and Friends’ coup de grâce proved to be Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1977). A Soviet composer with a German name, Schnittke’s modernisms run the gamut of 20th century styles, in addition to looking back to the Baroque era. The Suzukis, the laureates and a 21-piece string orchestra combined to make the composer’s six movements come alive in a difficult but excellently wrought account. A sonic highlight included Mrs. Suzuki playing a piano “treated” with metal washers sandwiched into each of its upper-register strings, producing a clanging effect unlike any other instrument — and employed only at the beginning and end of the work. The laureates’ and chamber group’s strings, sustained on high registers and harmonics, were what mesmerized throughout, however.