In a wonderful evening of music hosted by the Embassy of Italy, National Chamber Ensemble performed a spectacular concert of Italian music featuring the artistry of NCE Artistic Director and violinist Leonid Sushansky and pianist Carlos Rodriguez. The program included works by Tartini, Porpora, Scarlatti, Nardini, Vitali, Paganini, Liszt, Bellini, and Verdi.
Sushansky, in addition to being a very accomplished violinist, is a master at programming interesting and well-paced concerts. He also enjoys the intimacy and proximity that is inherent in chamber performance, and he is very much at ease interacting with his audience, both in introducing the music he programs, and in greeting all those who wish to speak with him and the artists he presents at the close of his concerts.
Thursday’s concert began in the Baroque era with a performance of Sonata in G minor, by Giuseppe Tartini, and was followed by Sonata No.2 in G Major for Violin Solo by Baroque opera composer Nicola Porpora. Returning to the stage, Carlos Rodriguez introduced and performed sonatas by Domenico Scaratti. Audiences love to see and hear Rodriguez perform showy and virtuosic pieces, and he does this well, but it was truly very enjoyable to listen to him explain the compositional structure of the Scarlatti works and to then hear him perform them with such wonderful technique and artistry.
The first half of the concert concluded with a touching performance of the Concerto in E minor, by Pietro Nardini. Sushansky shared that he had previously performed this work at the age of thirteen in his very first recital. Hearing him perform so beautifully on his new Italian violin, a gift from his mother, and thinking about how proud she must have been when he first played this work so many years ago in New York, I was brought to tears.
Opening the second half of the program, Sushansky thrilled the audience with a stunning and emotion filled performance of the Vitali Chaconne in G minor, a gorgeous and difficult work that he and Rodriguez performed with passion and beauty. In a night of many wonderful performances, this was perhaps the best of all. They followed with Cantabile for violin and piano in D Major, op.17, by Niccolò Paganini, a short work with a simple, memorable, and melodic beauty that has been a perennial favorite among violinists and audiences for more than 150 years.
Paganini was a virtuoso violinist whose technical abilities remain almost magical in the eyes of many. While many are surprised by his ability to compose a piece with the melodic focus of Cantabile, La Campanella, a work composed by Paganini in 1838 and later revised in 1851 by Franz Liszt, encompasses a showy direction more closely associated with his persona. Rodriguez is a very versatile and highly talented musician with a spitfire personality, and he delivered a performance of this piece that had his audience wowed in a way that would have made Paganini proud.
With a true to form sense of humor that endears him to everyone he meets, Sushansky introduced Casta Diva, the famous soprano aria from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Norma, and then indicated that the packed house was “about to hear ‘Norma’ in pants.” With this he lifted his violin and delivered an emotionally searing performance that was so magnetic that it seemed to make time stand still.
The concert ended with the Act III Violin Solo from I Lombardi alla prima Crociata, by Giuseppe Verdi, a beautiful and exciting mini violin concerto from Verdi’s fourth opera, but the first to be performed in the United States. Full of passion, hope, and love, and performed brilliantly by Sushansky and Rodriguez, it provided a perfect ending to a truly wonderful evening of Italian music.
Thanks to the Embassy of Italy for hosting this concert in its acoustically pleasing and art filled performance space, and for sharing it’s most interesting Niccolò Machiavelli exhibit with concert attendees.
National Chamber Ensemble returns to Artisphere’s Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre for its next concert, Happy Holidays, on Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm. As is tradition, outstanding young musicians will join the ensemble for some wonderful holiday music. This concert presents a perfect opportunity for families and friends to kick off the holiday season with classical masterpieces, caroling, and more fun than should be legal.