Monday, November 07, 2005

CONCERT REVIEW: Musical duo entrancing

By Mary Ellyn Hutton
Cincinnati Post, November 7, 2005

If chemistry is what makes a musical collaboration work, then violinist Tatiana Berman and pianist Anna Polusmiak have it made.

The budding duo - in their inaugural performance together - entranced a capacity crowd Sunday afternoon at Covington's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption with works by Arvo Pärt, Debussy and Beethoven.

They are so well-matched one wanted to cheer.

Both in their 20s, they share the Russian language and roots in the former Soviet Union. Berman, 25, a native of Moscow, grew up in St. Petersburg. Polusmiak, 22, was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Polusmiak, star graduate (2005) and student of Sergei Polusmiak at Northern Kentucky University, has performed extensively in the tristate and beyond. For Berman, who earned degrees from London's Royal College of Music (2004), it was a North American debut.

Both women play with a poised, aristocratic bearing and - strong card for a potential duo - are strikingly beautiful.

Pärt's 1978 "Spiegel im Spiegel" ("Mirror in the Mirror") cast a spell at the outset. The composer's last work before leaving Soviet-occupied Estonia for self-imposed exile in Berlin, Pärt's soft-spoken valedictory sounded at home in the Cathedral.

Polusmiak's simple, triadic accompaniment, reminiscent of the piano in Pärt's "Credo," the controversial work that hastened his departure from Estonia, underscored Berman's touching, slow-moving solo.

Debussy's Violin Sonata (1917), the last work he wrote before dying of cancer the year after, showed off Berman's melting tone and warm, expressive vibrato. She and Polusmiak made the most of its shifting colors and moods, from the solemn beginning of the Allegro vivo to the flighty Finale, whose coda bubbled up from pianissimo depths to a radiant, assertive close.

Beethoven's great "Kreutzer" Sonata took up the second half. Balance between the instruments - not helped by the Cathedral's sheer volume and reverberant acoustics -- was enhanced by setting the piano lid at its lowest level. Polusmiak soared on the swaggering counter theme of the first movement, and she and Berman outlined the soft recapitulation with sharpness of focus. Violin and piano exchanged ideas with clarity and precision in the variations movement, Berman skittering nimbly to the high F's in variation II.

The pair's ensemble strengths shone in the Finale where they could execute quicksilver runs, then transition on a dime to more soulful passages.

In response to a standing ovation, they played Manuel Ponce's charming, schmaltzy "Estrelita" as transcribed by Jascha Heifetz.

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