It was a trio. But every memory of Thursday’s concert returns unerringly to one face. The
three of them played with brilliance and passion. But one of them played with the
Vladimir Volokhin was an absolute wizard with the domra, his fingers plucking and
strumming and dancing about the fingerboard with impossible speed. But what I
remembered from their performance seven years ago, and what I am sure I will think of
every time this concert comes to mind, is his face.
His eyebrows arched in amazement at a sudden pause in the quirky Polka from
Shostakovich’s Ballet Bolt. The corners of his mouth turned down in mock displeasure.
Just as quickly his face lit up in renewed delight.
This fascination with one man’s suite of expressions is not to take anything away from
his musical colleagues. Without a truly virtuosic and expressive performance to back it
up, Vladimir’s miming would soon have been dismissed as mere antics.
But back it up they did. Sergei Teleshev made magic with his bayan. The accordion
crooned and shivered and snarled by turns. A simple melody was followed by rhythmic
background which morphed into rich full harmonies. It was delicate; it was brash. It led;
it followed. But always it played its role in a perfectly nuanced manner.
And then there was that enormous double bass balalaika. It seemed out of place with its
diminutive partners. And Val Petrukhin plied his instrument with a vigor and a sweep
that could not have been a bigger contrast with Vladimir scrunched over his domra and
his fingers scrunched even more tightly when he played. But without his three strings
providing the depth and the rhythm, and the occasional glissando, the other two would
have lost their foundation.
References to Mr. Bean could be heard from every corner of the foyer during
intermission. But Mr. Bean’s repertoire of dances has never included the tango and the
waltz, the two step and the polka and the saber dance. The trio was equally at home with
Bach and Tchaikovsky as it was with bluegrass and gypsy music.
Transplanted to Portland, Oregon, they gave the Americans George Gershwin and Leroy
Anderson fully authentic renditions. But their true flair was evident in the melodies of
their homeland, of Romanov and Chernikov. Their affinity for the music of Vladimir’s
former teacher Alexander Tsygankov came out when they opened the second half with
Chastushka. But it will be a long time before I forget the counterpoint that Larionov used
to make that Russian favourite Kalinka even more stunning.
Yes, Vladimir transfixed us when he nodded, shook his head, picked an audience member
for a focused stare, all with the exquisite timing of a comedian. And yes, that will
probably always be the first thing that comes to mind from this concert. But it was so
much more. It was one of those memorable experiences where three true artists shared
with us their talent and their passion. And their sense of humour.