John Frayne: 'Don Quixote' ballet thoroughly enjoyable

The Russian National Ballet Theatre came to the Tryon Festival Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts last week, and I attended the opening night Jan. 22, when this company performed the ballet "Don Quixote," one of the works created in 19th-century Russia by the great choreographer Marius Petipa, with music by Lon Minkus.

Minkus, who was born in Vienna in 1826 and died there in 1917, was on the evidence of his "Don Quixote" music a highly accomplished composer for the ballet. Alas, he had the misfortune to be compared with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Minkus' music, at turns brilliant and emotionally affecting, remains on a lower level than Tchaikovsky's masterpieces.

What is striking about this "Don Quixote" is how little it is about Miguel de Cervantes' "Knight of the Woeful Countenance." In this ballet, the Don Quixote, as played with charm and affection by Yan Samigullin, has relatively little technically difficult dancing to do. Rather, he stands and waves his spear in aid of the hero and heroine. More energetically employed was his squire Sancho Panza, whose awkwardness was skillfully mimed by Alexander Yakovlev.

The central action of the ballet is the frustrated love of the innkeeper's daughter Kitri for the barber Basilio, and the attempts by Kitri's father, Lorenzo, to marry Kitri to the older, foppish Gamache. In this performance, the role of Kitri was brilliantly danced by Maria Sokolnikova, and she was equaled in excellence by Aydos Zakan as Basilio. Evgeny Rudakov did fine comic work as the frustrated father, and Anton Baglikov was delightful as the hopeless Gamache.

The plot of this ballet calls for Don Quixote to encounter and destroy a puppet show. I did not see any puppet shows in this production, but Don Quixote did meet some automatons. The windmills in the script eluded my observation. One member of the audience said to me at intermission that he was enjoying the ballet but was baffled as to what might be going on.

Despite some narrative confusion, I thoroughly enjoyed Minkus' buoyant music, and the energetic and accomplished dancing of Elena Radchenko's company. In succeeding performances here, this group did "Chopiniana," "Romeo and Juliet" and "Swan Lake."

 

On Jan. 24 in Smith Music Hall, Ian Hobson continued his series on the complete solo and chamber music for piano by Johannes Brahms. The audience for this concert was larger than some of the Brahms series events last semester, and the music played was on the esoteric side.

Almost all the pieces were Brahms' transcriptions of his own or other people's works. Hobson began by playing the famous Chaconne from the Partita No. 2 for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach in an arrangement for left hand by Brahms. The majestic power and contrapuntal complexity of this great work were masterfully conveyed by Hobson, who said in his introduction that Brahms' version had served as an inspiration for the more famous piano transcription by Feruccio Busoni.

After the magisterial weight of the Bach piece, the piano four hands transcription of Brahms' "Gypsy Songs" was a delightful relief. This collection, originally for vocal quartet and solo piano, was transcribed for piano four hands by Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903).

Playing with Hobson, on a separate piano, was Samir Golescu, a student of Hobson's. These 11 songs traverse an array of moods, all with a Hungarian as well as gypsy flavor, and these moods were pleasantly conveyed by Hobson and Golescu. I wish the German first lines of the songs could have been translated.

In the second part of the program, Hobson played, with his customary technical excellence, transcriptions that traversed from the solemnity of Brahms own movement from his String Sextet, Op. 18, No.1 to the liveliness of a version of Christoph Gluck's Gavotte in A major from his opera "Paris and Helen."

A group of studies imitating works of Bach I found less interesting. But the program concluded with fascinating reworkings by Brahms of pieces by Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin and Carl Maria von Weber, whose "Perpetual Motion" finale to his Sonata No. 1 in Brahms' transcription made a rousing finale to the concert.

Coming Feb. 5 will be a concert in this Brahms series in which Hobson will be joined by other musicians in Brahms' Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25.

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at frayne@illinois.edu.

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