United Kingdom Benda, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, Sarasate, Godard, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Gershwin, Piazzolla. Dmitri Kogan (violin) Moscow Camerata Chamber Orchestra, Barbican Hall, Barbican Centre, London. 30.3.2015 (LB)
Five Great Violins
Benda – Grave
Schubert – Violin Sonatina in A minor (arr. Vadim Venediktov)
Tchaikovsky – Andante Cantabile
Sarasate – Romanza Andaluza
Godard – Canzonetta
Shostakovich – Waltz from the ballet The Limpid Stream
Gershwin – Porgy and Bess Fantasia (arr. Igor Frolov)
Piazzolla – Four Seasons of Buenos Aires
The Kogan Foundation, established in 2011 to support ‘unique cultural projects’, this evening brought Dmitri Kogan, a descendant of this legendary family, the Moscow Camerata Chamber Orchestra, of which he is artistic director, and a collection of five great violins to London’s Barbican Hall.
Present on stage was a virtuoso soloist of impeccable musical credentials, a superb orchestra, and five excellent violins by Nicolo Amati (1665), Antonio Stradivari (1736), Guarneri del Gesù (1728), Joannes Baptiste Guadagnini (1764) and Jean Baptiste Vuillaume (1852); the violins are collectively probably worth tens of millions, but it was in truth the artistry on display that proved to be priceless.
Violinists, probably encouraged by the astronomic price tags and the reputedly uniquely distinctive tonal qualities, are inevitably mesmerised by the mystique of the great violin makers of the past.
In a colossal programme, far exceeding the traditional two-hour concert, including two ‘bonus items’, as well as three encores, this was a concert that tested not just the musicians’ stamina, but also the endurance and critical faculties of the audience.
Dmitri Kogan, at first playing on the 1665 Amati, began the concert with a melancholic, but beautifully lilting performance of the Sicilienne by Maria Theresia Paradis, and with every successive piece he proceeded to alternate between the five instruments.
The audience received his announcement of each choice of instrument with audible gasps, and I wondered whether Kogan had made his choices with the demands of the music uppermost in his mind. I also wondered whether the audience could truly distinguish the difference in the sound of the five violins, and if they did, which instrument would they deem to be best suited to which composer’s music?
The first half of the programme was musically rather more compelling than the second, even if the second half was markedly relaxed and spontaneous. One got the distinct impression that Kogan and the orchestra identified particularly well with some of the first half repertoire, and the Sarasate and Shostakovich were especially idiomatic.
Vadim Venediktov’s arrangement of Schubert’s Sonatina worked remarkably well, and Kogan, now playing on the 1728 Guarneri del Gesù, was sensitively accompanied by the orchestra, which was itself fabulously well controlled and inspired by the concert mistress, whose identity – and that of the other members of the orchestra – the glossy and otherwise well-designed concert programme failed to mention.
By the time the second half began, Kogan was well into his stride, totally relaxed and with a beguiling element of mischief beginning to infuse his playing. In Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Fantasia, the audience erupted in spontaneous applause with each outburst of virtuosity from Kogan.
Kogan and the orchestra then launched into some energetic tango, with each of Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires performed on a different violin. The lower half of the orchestra lacked a little bit of weight, rhythmic precision, and also the necessary drive and urgency, which the addition of a second double bass may well have solved.
Piazzolla’s Libertango was the final item on the programme, but we treated to three encores, two of which were for solo violin, but in the ultimate act of showmanship Kogan and the orchestra performed an extravagant version of Carnival of Venice, with each of the five great violins getting a shot at a variation or two.
If I had one regret after such a magnificent concert, it was that the 1852 Vuillaume had, but for a very brief appearance in the Carnival of Venice encore, only enjoyed one outing during the entire concert, in Godard’s Canzonetta. This instrument, in monetary terms far less valuable than the other four, possesses a deep dark and extremely powerful sound, and if there was to be a winner this evening, it was, in my view, unequivocally Vuillaume’s night.