Slavic Duo delivers an afternoon delight at IVC

Natasha Kislenko, Alicja Dutkiewicz (Joseph Espiritu)

Maryanne Shults

Aptly titled “Slavic Duo,” two young native-Eastern Bloc musicians presented an afternoon concert of collaborative chamber music. An intimate group of fans, students and friends gathered to watch the two perform in the Performing Arts Center at Irvine Valley College on Saturday, Feb. 7.

Moscow-born pianist Natasha Kislenko and Polish-born cellist Alicja Dutkiewicz delighted the audience with their technique, style, and passion as they highlighted the music of two of the most popular composers of the Romantic period, as well as two from the 20th century.

Critics have praised Kislenko’s “great artistry” and “perfect technique,” but one must see her live to appreciate these compliments. Both her posture while at the Steinway grand piano, and the graceful movements and ballet of her hand gestures were captivating.

Dutkiewicz is regarded as one of the most internationally successful Polish musicians of her generation.  Watching her play, she could have studied with the composers directly; she captured the essence and theme of each piece with grace and clarity.  A tall woman of thin build, she contradicts the notion that playing the cello requires strong upper body and arm strength in order to achieve good tone and sound.

“Overall, both are impeccable in their musical technique,” said Sallie Ngarmtap, 33, an IVC pre-med major studying piano. “It is a treat to watch a professional [pianist] since we are working on arpeggios in class.”

The musicians’ first piece, “Sonata for cello and piano No. 2 in D major, Op. 58” by Felix Mendelssohn, included four movements. The first two movements, both allegros, waxed and waned between the extremely quick to the soft and legato. Neither Kislenko nor Dutkiewicz overshadowed the other, showing more than collaboration between two musicians, but rather a synchronization often seen in close friendship between two women who consider themselves equal partners.

Second on the program was Gabriel Fauré’s “Papillion, Op. 77.” The listener only has to close his or her eyes and envision watching a butterfly to imagine this piece. It first flies around quickly, with no specific path or destination in mind, and suddenly lands to rest to show off its beautiful wings. Both the rapid and melodic parts of the song represent the behavior of a butterfly.

Kislenko performed a Tchaikovsky solo, “February: ‘Carnaval'” from “The Seasons, Op. 37,” for the piano. The piece was lively and upbeat, well representing the carnival best known as Mardi Gras.

Their final duet was another four-movement piece from 20th century Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninov, entitled “Sonata for cello and piano in G minor, Op. 19.” The tonal harmonies were stunning as the two once again showed their synchronization, although the cello introduced most themes and embellished by the piano.

Natasha Kislenko has performed as a soloist and a collaborative pianist in locations throughout Russia, Europe, and the United States. She holds graduate degrees in piano performance and accompaniment from the famed Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Russia, the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the State University of New York, Stony Brook, where she completed her doctorate in 2004. She is currently on the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as being on staff at the famed Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara.

Alicja Dutkiewicz comes from a distinguished family of musicians in Warsaw, Poland. In 1987, she came to the U.S. to study at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., and earned her master’s degree in cello performance at the University of Southern California.