Gower Festival’s First Accordionist Gets Standing Ovation

United KingdomUnited Kingdom   Schnittke, Bach, Lobos, Piazzolla, Bartok, Monti: Ksenja Sidorova (accordion) and Thomas Gould (violin), Swansea, 2,7.2014 (LJ).

Alfred Schnittke, Suite in the Old Style
J. S. Bach, Sonata for violin & keyboard No. 6 in G BMV 1019
Heitor Villa Lobos, Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5
Astor Piazzolla, Café 1930, Oblivion
Bela Bartok, Romanian Folk Dances
Vittorio Monti, Czardas.


Warmly welcomed by the friendly faces of the Gower Festival at St Hilary’s Church in Killay, I was delighted to be serenaded by a majestic duo, which consisted of Ksenija Sidorova (accordion) and Thomas Gould (violin). The camaraderie and intimacy between Sidorova and Gould seeped into every crevice of their musical performance, enriching their individual musical voices and seamless gossamers of harmony. As musicians who laced their performances (particularly Bach’s Sonata for violin & keyboard No. 6 in G BMV 1019) with almost telepathic communication, counterpoint and musical echoes were highlighted and coloured with perfect shading. Whereas this arrangement of Bach’s Sonata for violin & keyboard in G sometimes overwhelms the nuances of the piece, intended to convey a particular emotion for each of the five movements, Sidorova addressed this potential overcrowding with praiseworthy simplicity and precision. In this interpretation, she was the consummate musician as the violin did not sit on top of a folk-like background; rather, it was deftly interwoven and infused with Gould’s poetic character. As a result of this facilely conveyed caution, both musicians journeyed with the audience through each sentiment conveyed in Bach’s composition.

In a widely ranging programme that included composers Alfred Schnittke and Heitor Villa Lobos Sidorova’s dexterity, subtlety and virtuosity were all displayed with characteristic elegance and poise. In particular, Sidorova and Gould played Lobos’s fifth aria from his Bachianas Brasileiras with astonishing levels of compassion, just as (to quote from the aria itself): ‘From the boundless deep the moon arises / wondrous, glorifying the evening like a beauteous maiden.’

Introducing Schnittke’s Gogol’s Suite (after the wry and polystylistic Russian author Nikolai Gogol), with witty and intelligent remarks that increased the audience’s curiosity, Sidorova unearthed the biting tension and comic eccentricities duelling at the heart of this suite. In a piece originally composed for full orchestra with crashing cymbals, brooding brasses and singing strings, the accordion becomes a ‘one man band’ as it pipes, pounds and plucks out the tune. With her fantastic dynamic contrasts and quirky sense of humour, Sidorova imbued this piece with Eastern-European folk rhythms that demonstrated her innate musicality and dizzying flare. Characteristic of Gogol’s writing and Schnittke’s suite, Sidorova brought together a surreal expressive ambivalence and outlandishly contradicting states of mind with uncanny intuitiveness and candour.

Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, originally a suite of six pieces composed for piano in 1915, were played with majesty and mellifluousness. Sash Dance (the second movement) was adorned with typical Romanian dance rhythms through Sidorova’s natural sass and pep, whilst In One Spot (the third movement) allowed Gould to convey his intense calm through Bartok’s shady Middle-Eastern ambiance. With intoxicatingly perfumed and well-rounded performances, like Bartok, this duo ‘cannot conceive of music that expresses absolutely nothing’. In a cleverly arranged second half, Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances were followed by Vittorio Monti’s Czardas composed in 1904 and based on a Hungarian folk-dance. Beginning emphatically in the key of D minor, this piece fluctuates between major and minor, ricochets between fortissimo and pianissimo, entertains different tempos and styles (from frenzied rhapsodic phrases to tender harmonics on the violin) as it courses to its climatic ending. Gould’s intuitive ornamentation blossomed in this performance and was hearteningly encouraged by Sidorova; this enriched gusto rendered the piece with a glowing sentimentality rather than it merely being a coolly virtuosic foray.

An evening of accordion music would be incomplete without a performance of the infamous tango-composer of the twentieth century: Astor Piazzolla. In Café 1930 and Oblivion, the Argentinian’s music for accordion (originally composed for bandoneon) mushroomed into life through Sidorova’s lush, earthy textures and catching vitality. Sometimes considered with uncertainty in terms of his ‘classical’ status, Piazzolla’s music has increasingly been recorded by well-renowned artists such as Kremer, Accardo, Barenboim, Yo Yo Ma and Patrick Gallois, as well as numerous reputable Chamber Ensembles. With Gould’s lyricism and silky tone abundant, and coupled with Sidorova’s romantic musical sentiment, the duo channelled Piazzolla’s penetratingly nostalgic music with clarity and charisma making them worthy of being mentioned alongside the aforementioned list of musical greats.

Persuaded to dazzle yet again with an encore of Richard Galliano’s La Valse a Margaux, Gould’s improvisational flare and Sidorova’s ebullient personality illumined this jazzy piece written specifically for the accordion by the formidable French composer of Italian stock. In its frolicsomeness, Sidorova and Gould’s music never moved too far away from its dance rhythms, lest it fall into a void and atrophy. Throughout the concert Sidorova (with an accordion weighing 3 ½ stone) and Gould gently rocked and swayed to their undulating rhythms.

In this ‘night of transcriptions’ (to quote Sidorova), the accordion moved from tentatively taking centre stage to commanding it with aplomb. Sidorova charmed the audience into speechless swoons and irrepressible hoots of merry cheer. By the end of the evening, Ksenija Sidorova and Thomas Gould had not only wowed the musical aficionados and entertained the masses, but above all, warmed the hearts of tonight’s audience.

Lucy Jeffery. 

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