Sun 10 Oct 2010
Based on the famous Russian gypsy waltz of the same name, Dark Eyes originally was requested for a concert featuring a Russian cellist (Alexei Romanenko), a Polish violinist (Piotr Szewczyk), and a Cuban pianist (Ileana Fernandez). Tongue-in-cheek and bordering on campy, these "Variations in the Form of a Sonatina" transform the Russian tune using rhythms of the Polish polonaise and the Cuban havanaise.
The sonatina form is essentially in E minor, but it is sandwiched between an Introduction and a Coda, both in A minor. The Introduction begins with the solo cello presenting a rather grandiose "theme." This is immediately repeated, but with the violin and piano enveloping it in stormy, fanfare-like flourishes. The violin takes up the sonatina's "first subject" Polonaise, perhaps more reminiscent of circus music than of a stately Polish promenade. The piano and cello provide accompaniment while alternating bits of the original tune. A transitional section presents two more variations. The first has a turning and leaping motive pitted against dotted rhythms. The second changes meter to set up the havanaise rhythm of the "second subject."
Named for the Cuban capital, the Havanaise is introduced by the piano. Melodically, it is an inversion of the Dark Eyes tune, no longer in a minor mode. Where the original waltz is tightly wound, this variation opens up with exuberant leaps, rather like giddy children on a see-saw. The addition of a prominent C# -- a "raised 4th" in an otherwise mainly G-major harmonic background -- recalls the raised fourth that Dark Eyes begins with. In addition to providing an exotic, Lydian coloring to the harmony, the raised 4th enhances the leaping, light-headed feeling by never quite allowing the tonality to settle.
At the beginning of the "development section" the cello takes up the Polonaise, but the violin and piano fight the cello for prominence as they hammer away with variations in 16th-note patterns. Immediately following a general pause, the Dark Eyes tune appears in the piano's bass line, while the strings saw away with tremolo double-stops.
Against sustained D-minor chords, the piano takes over the Polonaise in a melodic "recap" of the first subject. Rather than re-establishing the expected E-minor tonality, this section looks forward to the Coda, serving a sub-dominant function to the A-minor tonality that begins and ends the entire piece.
The return of the Havanaise tentatively re-establishes E as the key-note, and it fades into a fugal variation that begins firmly in E-minor. The Coda begins with a straight-forward presentation of the Dark Eyes waltz by the cello, while the violin sings a plaintive descant above a simple chordal background from the piano. The players conclude with a reprise of the stormy fanfare from the Introduction.