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Russian Cellist had Virtuosi Audience at First Bow Stroke




Film buffs will remember a famous line from a few years back: "You had me at 'hello.'" Well, Russian cellist Sergey Antonov quickly asserted his status as a world-class artist from the first stroke of his bow Saturday night, wowing Virtuosi Concert's opening night crowd with sublime artistry and a bundle of charm.


The 26-year-old musician won a Gold Medal at the prestigious 2007 International Tchaikovsky Competition as one of the youngest players ever to win the coveted prize, described by late legendary cellist/composer Mstislav Rostropovich as "brilliant." A former graduate of the Moscow Conservatory born into a family of cellists, Antonov is currently an artist diploma candidate at Cambridge's Longy School of Music while actively performing in concerts around the globe. The weekend concert marked his Canadian premiere as well as inaugural performance with his former classmate and longtime pianist chum, Ilya Kazantsev.


Nothing quite compares to hearing angst-filled Russian music performed by its own citizens. Sergei Rachmaninov's Sonata in g minor, Op. 19 is a brooding four-movement work that gives the lion's share of technical demands to the pianist while demanding the utmost sensitivity from its soloist. The duo exhibited their innate understanding of this music with their strong rapport immediately palpable from its opening lento-allegro moderato through to finale allegro mosso.


Antonov wrung out every ounce of emotion from the work, with his long spun notes conveying a world of expression from plaintive hope to existential pathos. His well-controlled approach often gave way to flashes of Russian temperament -- always lying just below the surface -- that rose with a fury in the allegro scherzando. The penultimate andante showed off his intense lyricism after Kazantsev's presentation of the hauntingly beautiful opening theme.


The heavily Romantic program would have been that much stronger with a solo (or two) by Kazantsev, 25, whose understated presence invariably shone the spotlight on the cellist all evening -- as it should. However, being given a relatively brief taste of own fiery virtuosity during the Rachmaninov only whetted the appetite for more.


The evening also included Schumann's Five Pieces in Folk Style Op. 102, filled with colourful folkloric influence including a playfully insistent Mit Humor and gently rocking Langsam gorgeously rendered by the artists.


An enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience resulted in a dazzling encore of Rostropovich's Humoresque Op. 5. The Russians cut loose from the previous two hours of pensive moodiness with a formidable display of bravura, enthralling the crowd while leaving no doubt they are two serious young artists to watch.

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