United Kingdom Janáček, Beethoven, Ravel, Prokofiev, Anthony Marwood (violin), Aleksandar Madžar (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 5.2.2015 (RB)
Janáček – Violin Sonata
Beethoven – Violin Sonata in C Minor Op 30 No. 2
Ravel – Violin Sonata in A Minor (Sonate Posthume)
Prokofiev -Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Op 94bis
Anthony Marwood and Aleksandar Madžar are regular chamber music partners and they have released a number of critically acclaimed discs featuring music by Brahms and Schumann as part of the Wigmore Hall Live series. Both are also distinguished concert soloists in their own right so it was disappointing to see so many empty seats in the Wigmore Hall. I wondered if it might have to do with the preponderance of 20th Century works on the programme and the fact that two of the pieces were relatively unfamiliar. It seems rather a shame that the concert-going public is not more open to less familiar repertoire.
Marwood and Madžar opened with the Janáček Violin Sonata which was written in 1914 and subsequently revised three times in the period up to 1921. Janáček himself said he did not “consider it to be an exceptional work but that there is some truth in the second and third movements”. The work anticipates a number of the motifs in Katya Kabanova and it is thankfully beginning to feature in concert programmes much more regularly. While there was much to admire in this performance by Marwood and Madžar they sometimes seemed to find it difficult navigating a course through the rather extreme emotional contrasts in Janáček’s music and to capture his idiosyncratic poetic idiom. Marwood was very dramatic and assured in the opening phrases of the first movement and there was a good balance between the two soloists. The transitions to the more lyrical material were well handled but I did not feel they quite captured the quintessential Moravian feel of the music. The second movement ‘’Ballada’ was much better, with Marwood giving us some sweet toned flowing lyrical lines and Madžar producing glistening colours in the demi-semiquaver accompaniment. I liked the caustic biting quality which Marwood brought to the opening of the scherzo although I wondered if the central slower section could have been more expressively nuanced. There was excellent coordination between the two players in the last movement and they navigated their way well through the various changes of mood and tempo. Again, I did not feel the players were entirely comfortable with Janáček’s unique poetic sensibility in the opening and later sections of the movement.
Both performers seemed much more at home with the Beethoven and the performances went up a notch. The opening movement was dramatic and exciting and there was some delightful and well-judged dialogue between the two players in the major key sections. There was a clear sense of structure and of working through a musical argument and the articulation of both players was exemplary. The slow movement was warm and expressive but there was also an element of restraint in the playing so it never tipped over into being sentimental. The music emerged and flowed in an honest and organic way and everything seemed natural and right. The scherzo was extremely well characterised with both players making the most of the wit and playful elements of the music. In the last movement Marwood and Madžar made the most of the dislocations and mood shifts in the music while the coda was an absolutely blistering piece of playing bringing the first half of the concert to an exhilarating conclusion.
Ravel wrote his first Violin Sonata in 1897 when he was still a student at the Paris Conservatoire and it was not published until 1975 on the centenary of his birth. Ravel intended it to be the first movement of a larger scale work and it was highly unusual for the time because of the composer’s use of freely changing metres. The work has a rich, romantic feel and there is also a pervasive air of Gallic melancholy. Marwood produced a rich and full-toned sound for the work and used tasteful and judicious vibrato. There was a freedom and elasticity to the playing and Marwood succeeded in achieving a sense of rapture and romantic passion in the grand climaxes. Madžar used a rich palette of tone colours in the piano accompaniment and he was very good at evoking mood and atmosphere. On one or two occasions (and rather unusually) Marwood’s intonation was not quite right in the upper register of the instrument but this was a very minor blemish in what was otherwise a very fine performance.
The recital concluded with Prokofiev’s wonderful D Major sonata which the composer wrote at the behest of David Oistrakh. Oistrakh’s request followed a performance of Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata in D Major at the Moscow Conservatoire in 1943. Marwood and Madžar adopted a brisk tempo in the opening movement and took a no nonsense approach to the score. Both players made the most of the contrast between the lyrical material at the beginning and the more spiky and trenchant material. The scherzo was well characterised, both performers conveying the sense of edginess and bite in the opening section, and the raucous, boisterous feeling in the subsequent section. Marwood brought a sense of charm and expressive freedom to the slow movement while Madžar showed us his gift for making the piano sing and at some points created a wonderful feeling of space. Marwood played the opening theme of the last movement with gusto and both players kept the lines and dialogue very clean and precise. Marwood pulled out all the stops for the ending and played the double stopping and pyrotechnics with enormous swagger and virtuoso aplomb.
Overall, there was some exceptionally fine playing in this concert particularly in the Beethoven and Prokofiev. The Wigmore audience were treated to the slow movement of Beethoven’s Violin Sonata, Op 13 No. 1 as an encore.