(TWO-GETHER: Andrey Kasparov and Oksana Lutsyshyn) 

By Montague Gammon III

The Norfolk Chamber Consort closes its 54th Season with a concert titled “The Game of Pairs.”

Husband and wife performers, father and son composers, deux French composers, sibling string instruments, twinned string instruments, two ways of playing string instruments, and European style matched up with American jazz are its prominent one plus one pairings.

Consort co-artistic directors Andrey Kasparov (husband, Russian born) and Oksana Lutsyshyn (wife, Ukrainian born), who together are the Invencia Piano Duo – another pair to draw to – chatted about the May 29 concert between professorial duties at ODU’s Diehn School of Music and Consort rehearsals.

Both as Invencia and individually, they’ve earned international competition awards and racked up critical paise and awards for numerous CDs on Naxos and other labels, and played with some of the biggest names and at the most famous venues of classical music. (Joshua Bell and Carnegie Hall, for example.)

The two part “Game of Pairs” program begins with Frenchman Maurice Ravel’s Violin Sonata #2 (1923-1927), featuring Ànnika Jenkins on violin and Lutsyshyn on piano. Jenkins is a Hampton Roads native who has forged a burgeoning international professional career while touching down at Juilliard and Columbia, soloing on NPR’s “From the Top,” and adding forays into writing and arts advocacy.

Ravel is popularly known for his proto-minimalist and familiar Bolero, but this three movement Sonata, with its American blues influenced second movement, is a horse of a different genre, and not a war horse at all.

Lutsyshyn says that the Ravel can be a “difficult collaboration.” 

It begins with a delicate piano intro, which becomes a sometimes mournful duet that ranges from rather languorous to almost frantic. (Lutsyshyn remarked on a “dark” quality of Ravel’s compositions.) The second movement, which is titled “Blues. Moderato” sounds at the beginning like something out of Broadway’s Chicago and then Gershwin’s “Summertime,” of 1934. The lively third movement, “Perpetuum mobile,” has a sort of runaway “Flight of the Bumblebee” quality that resolves itself with a hint of blues again.

A pair of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Inventions,” each little more than a minute long, in which Jenkins’ violin joins with Elizabeth Richards’ cello, is next on the program. (Kasparov pointed out that “Invencia” translates as “invention.”) Richards is Executive Director of Bay Youth Orchestras of Virginia, an active music educator and chamber player with a Doctorate of Musical Arts.

Bach wrote these in 1723 for a pair of harpsichords, but, Kasparov notes, Bach’s “structure is so solid” that they “can be played by violin and cello and they work just as well or they could be sung by a choir.”

World War I was raging across Europe when the terminally ill Claude Debussy, Ravel’s countryman, composed his Sonata No. 1, for cello and piano (1915).  He planned six pieces for various instrument pairings, but completed just three before dying of cancer in 1918, while German shells rained down on his home town of Paris.

The Prologue is unsurprisingly alternately somber and ominous, but there’s a turn to a livelier albeit still mournful Sérénade that begins with the cello strings being plucked rather than bowed. Throughout the Sérénade and the Finale, the cellist switches between plucking (pizzicato) and bowing (arco, a less familiar term for bowing), through a forceful and percussive final bars.

After intermission, it’s J.S. Bach to the fore with his ca. 1734 Concerto for Two Harpsichords and Orchestra in C Minor. The Kasparov/Lutsyshyn duo joins forces on harpsichords, supported by Jenkins (violin II) and Richards (cello), and by Gretchen Loyola on violin I and Celia Daggy on viola. Daggy is Principal Viola for the Virginia Symphony, Loyola a veteran of the VSO who now plays with the Harbor String Quartet and works as a Physician Assistant, having been valedictorian of her EVMS Masters Degree program.

Kasparov, mentioning that the strings “play pretty much pizzicato,” added that the harpsichord is a plucked string instrument as well. Unlike the piano, in which the keys activate felt covered hammers that strike strings, the keys of a harpsichord lift a jack that holds a small plectrum, a piece of plastic or quill that is shaped to pluck a string and sprung in such a way that it does not pluck the string a second time when the key is released.

The three movement concerto is an intricate, and in the first and third movements, virtually a toe-tapping, display of virtuosity of composer and musicians. Kasparov sums it up as simply “a very powerful combination.”

One of the few surviving copies of that J.S Bach piece was commissioned by his son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, known as C.P.E. Bach. Kasparov made the interesting point that “When Mozart said ‘The great Bach he is the father, we are the children,’ he meant C.P.E. Bach not J.S Bach. His work was more well known and influential than his father’s. He influenced Beethoven, Haydn [and] he was also influential as an author. You cannot be serious about the art if you have not read this book. [True Art of Keyboard Playing]…He was the most experimental of the ‘Bach batch’.”

C.P.E.’s Concerto in F for Two Harpsichords, Orchestra and Continuo, (17340 wraps up the concert with an intricate musical lacework of delicacy, charm, and finely focussed energy. Marlene Ford and Jeffrey Warren on French Horns I and II join the string players on this one. Ford’s a veteran of the VSO, with whom Warren has also played. Both teach privately, and Ford in on the adjunct faculty of ODU’s Diehn School. Conductor Jeffrey Phelps is Chair of Instrumental Music at the Governor’s School for the Arts and Music Director of the GSA Orchestra, cellist and conductor with other local and national groups.

“Two gigantic French composers,” father and son of the greatest family of musicians ever, two stellar keyboardists, and lots and lots of great music. That’s the Norfolk Chamber Consort’s lineup for “The Game of Pairs.”



“The Game of Pairs”

Norfolk Chamber Consort

7:30 p.m., Monday, May 29

Chandler Recital Hall,

Diehn Center for Performing Arts,

Old Dominion University

1339 West 49th Street, Norfolk, 23529

The Game of Pairs