The balalaika, a three-stringed, guitarlike Russian instrument with a triangular body and a long neck, comes in a variety of sizes and produces a shimmering sound that is quite unique. Fourteen of them, plus 24 domras (similar but round-bodied) and a gusli (something like a zither) make a very distinctive body of sound in the American Balalaika Symphony, which performed Saturday at Northern Virginia Community College's Schlesinger auditorium with Peter Trofimenko conducting.
The Russian instruments were reinforced by accordion, woodwinds and percussion, which did not dilute the essentially Russian sound of the orchestra. The Russian instruments are all folk instruments, and even the Russian classical works written for them tend to have a folk flavor -- like an American work for banjo. This was most evident in a suite called "Images" with six short works by Russian composers that set one reviewer dreaming of a troika galloping through a grove of birch trees in a snowy landscape.
But besides the Russian material, the orchestra played music of other nationalities: Hungarian (Kalman), Spanish (Gimenez), French (Gounod, Daquin) and Italian (Bazzini). For an encore, it played the "Colonel Bogey" march from "The Bridge on the River Kwai." But it all had a Russian accent.
Guest soloist Andrei Gorbachev (not to be confused with that other Gorbachev) is a remarkable balalaika virtuoso, as he demonstrated in a piece called "Balalaika" by V. Andreyev and Paganini's 24th Caprice.
The program will be repeated June 12 at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center.
-- Joseph McLellan