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MUSIC REVIEW

Russian trio brings many genres, and crowds, to life

September 18, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The members of Trio Voronezh reportedly were discovered playing Bach in a Frankfurt, Germany, subway station. That would seem to be an unlikely venue for a group of classically trained musicians from the Russian city of Voronezh. But their performance Friday at the Ford Amphitheatre revealed a range of skills equally applicable to the concert stage or to buskers' sidewalks.

The trio worked with instruments common to Russian music but infrequently heard -- or seen -- in this country. Vladimir Volokhin played most of the melodic lead passages on the domra, a long-necked, threestringed, lute/mandolin-like instrument. Sergei Teleshev offered rich harmonic textures and counter-melodies on the bajan, a chromatic, button accordion. And Valerie Petrukhin kept the rhythms churning with his big, triangular-shaped double-bass balalaika.

What they produced with this seemingly minimal set of instruments was as remarkable as it was entertaining. The opening half of the program included uniquely arranged versions of works by Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Mozart, Bach and Sarasate, each performed in startlingly convincing fashion. The Burlesque from the Shostakovich Violin Concerto stirringly captured the jaunty brio of the original. A set of pieces by Astor Piazzolla managed to bring an undercurrent of Russian passion to tango rhythms. Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance" was a whirling spin through a piece often overdone, rarely played with the dancing bravura brought to it by the trio. And -- equally compelling -- Mozart's Turkish Rondo bristled with a feeling of Eastern European authenticity.

The program's second half switched gears into Russian traditional music as well as a few pieces written for the trio, adding selections that must have been crowd-pleasers in the Frankfurt subway station: "Besame Mucho," "Fiddle Faddle," Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So" and a riotous bluegrass number. The traditional pieces soon brought the crowd to life, clapping enthusiastically as the rhythms accelerated and Volokhin's fingers flew across his domra. Petrukhin, his body moving in sync with his deep bass notes, and Teleshev, magisterially pulling everything together within the lush sounds of his bajan, completed the picture -- three players, alone on a large open stage, filling every crevice with their rich, imaginatively conceived music.

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