From music critic Lindsay Koob:

Russian music often drips like a leaky faucet — but ah, what drippings! I’ve been yakking on all week about how Mahler bares all of life’s primal fears and frayed nerves. Well, the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff does much the same thing, but in a different way. It might help to know that he suffered from chronic depression for much of his life (few of the great Russians are strangers to long-term misery). His searing, heart-on-sleeve Slavic pathos and ultra-romantic musical style seem overblown and contrived to some. But he punches the rest of us right in our emotional gut, and hard.

And that’s just what we got during Friday evening’s Piccolo Spotlight concert at the well-packed City Gallery at Waterfront Park. The artists were cellist Natalia Khomam (at left), Lee-Chin Siow on violin (below, right), and Volodymyr Vynnytsky at the keyboard. Khoma and Siow are the College of Charleston’s top strings professors, and Vynnytsky is Khoma’s regular piano partner. They’ll be among the primary players in the College’s newly expanded chamber music program that’ll help feed the Holy City’s chamber addiction in the regular season.

Khoma and her pianist got things started with Rachmaninoff’s famous Sonata for Cello and Piano, his best chamber work. It’s all dark romantic musings and tortured drama. Then Siow joined them for his Trio Elegaique, a searing, grief-stricken threnody that the 19-year-old composer wrote shortly after the death of his idol Tchaikovsky.

Make no mistake, these were truly world-class performances. I’ve already raved about Khoma’s powerful playing (See Harp Heaven at Dock Street here) and she was every bit as effective bringing her compatriot’s music to shattering life here. Vynnytsky is her regular pianist of choice, and his dynamic and deeply felt work showed us why. The pain and intensity seem to double when Russian artists play their own music – and that’s what happened tonight. But in the trio, they welcomed violinist Siow (from Singapore) as a full-fledged adopted Russian. Her natural passion fit right in to the going scenario.

An hour-plus of prime Rachmaninoff tends to drain a man, body and soul. That’s how I still feel, hours later. And on top of last night’s Mahler? Heaven help me.


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