Beyond the spheres of opera and song, music is shaped by language in many ways that we rarely stop to consider -- unless we hear a reading at a chamber music concert. Tuesday night at Mount Vernon College's Post Hall, violinist Ivan Minas-Bekov and pianist Eva Pierrou-Varga played works by Prokofiev and Shostakovich, whose melancholy counterparts in pre-glasnost poetry by Anna Akhmatova and Osip Mandelstam were read by Russian scholar Anna Graham.
Each poem set the mood -- from stormy introspection to resigned irony -- for a particular piece. Sometimes, the text helped audiences unravel what had been submerged in the music. To elucidate the introspective, searching quality of Moses Vainberg's Sonatina Op. 46, there could have been no better choice than Akhmatova's "Do You Know How It Happened?" -- though it raised many more questions than it answered about the music's possible meanings.
Not everything promised in the poetry was delivered in the performance. Minas-Bekov's easygoing nature worked both to his advantage and disadvantage. Though capable of the expressive turns of phrase that win warm smiles from the audience, Minas-Bekov was clearly struggling with his phrasing and interpretive detail work. Important refinements in string color, such as harmonics, were sloppily rendered, if at all. Pierrou-Varga distinguished herself with fine, well-balanced accounts, claiming even a flashy piece like Khachaturian's Toccata for the realm of poetry.