United Kingdom Schnittke, Prokofiev, Bartók, Brahms: Vadim Repin (violin), Andrei Korobeinikov (piano), Wigmore Hall London, 6.10.2015. (CS)
Schnittke – Violin Sonata No.1
Prokofiev – Violin Sonata No.2 in D major Op.94bis
Bartók – Rhapsody No.1 BB94a
Brahms – Capriccio in F# minor Op. 76 No.1; Capriccio in B minor Op.76 No.2; Three Intermezzos Op. 117 (No.1 in Eb major, No.2 in Bb minor); Capriccio in C# minor Op.76 No.5; Violin Sonata No.3 in D minor Op. 108
In this thoughtfully constructed programme of works for violin and piano, composed between the 1870s and 1960s, there were diverse and strongly characterised individual musical voices, but echoes and recollections also suggested conversations taking place over time, between past and present. Siberian-born violinist Vadim Repin and his fellow countryman, pianist Andrei Korobeinikov gave a supremely confident performance, which articulated such shared sentiments – musical, expressive and cultural – most powerfully.
The first half was devoted to twentieth-century Russia, its politics as much as its music, with Alfred Schnittke’s first violin sonata, written in 1963, preceding the second of Prokofiev’s sonatas for violin and piano, composed almost twenty years before in 1944. The eclecticism of Schnittke’s idiom was immensely engaging, however modernistic some of the harmonic explorations and formal experiments. Most captivating was the final Allegretto scherzando in which the wry jazz rhythms infused the movement with an irony worthy of Shostakovich. There was ‘fun’ too in the jerky dance episodes of the second movement and ‘gravity’ in the juxtaposition of these disjointed rhythms with passages of both lyrical simplicity and more percussive dissonance. The technical brilliance of Repin’s perfectly tuned multiple-stopping, incisive pizzicatos and astonishingly clear harmonics was matched by the clarity of Korobeinikov’s textures and his ability to find just the right colour for each of the movements: an eloquent lyricism which tempered the cool serialism of the opening Andante, a hymn-like gravity in the Largo with its echoes of Messiaen and Bach.
Repin and Korobeinikov demonstrated similar self-possession in Prokofiev’s Second Violin Sonata. The broad arc of the violin theme which opens the Moderato established a graciousness and sincerity which was sustained throughout the sonata. However, there were plenty of fireworks too, not least in the Scherzo, which raced by, with sparks ignited by the contending rhythmic stresses between piano and violin. But even here there was tenderness: in the central major-key episode of this movement, the sweeping open-string acciaccaturas echoed through the E-string phrases which they precede, creating a sense of expansiveness which complemented Repin’s crystal-clear harmonics. Korobeinikov’s staccato accompaniment stabbed and danced, generating great power. Relaxation came with the jazz-infused Andante though I would have preferred an even more leisurely tempo and limpidity. The final Allegro con brio was energetic but never frenetic, and the range of colours and moods achieved by both players was impressive, with fiery bravura countered by moments of intimacy.
Bartók’s Rhapsody No.1 was dedicated to Hungarian virtuoso violinist Joseph Szigeti. Repin was seemingly unruffled by its technical challenges, effortlessly capturing the spirit of the work too, and embracing its gypsy influences and Eastern-European fiddle-playing idioms and techniques. The succession of modal and folk melodies unfolded as if improvised, spontaneous and free, with multiple-stop accompaniments seemingly inspired by the moment. Repin’s tone was full and grainy in the robust melodies, but the overall feeling was one of lamentation, enhanced at times by the sombreness of the piano’s drone-like accompaniment.
Korobeinikov’s playing in these works was a revelation, not least because of the range of timbres which he coaxed from the Wigmore Hall’s Steinway. His was an equal voice with Repin’s violin, at times extraordinarily agile, at others coolly reflective; and I was constantly drawn to small details and dialogues that I had previously overlooked or undervalued. Korobeinikov followed the Bartók Rhapsody with works for piano by Brahms, linking the five short pieces presented in an unbroken chain which acquired compelling dynamism. Though the Capriccios and Intermezzos are diminutive in scale, their expressive range and depth is anything but small, and there was certainly no holding back in Korobeinikov’s approach as he conveyed the drama of the former and the introspection of the latter. The first of the Op.76 Capriccios began sotto voce, brooding and dark, but built to a powerful climax. The second in B Minor was more light-hearted, the staccatos leaping friskily as the left hand flew across the registers, and recalled the Hungarian folksiness of the preceding Rhapsody. Great excitement was generated through the metrical experimentations of the fifth Capriccio in C# minor. Written in 1892, the Op.117 Intermezzos perhaps convey Brahms’s unhappiness at this time, as he mourned the death of his beloved friend Elizabeth von Herzogenberg and lost confidence as a composer. These miniatures do not reveal their sentiments overtly, but Korobeinikov sympathetically emphasised the introspective quality of the lullaby-like melody of the Eb Intermezzo, while the improvisatory wanderings of the Bb minor Intermezzo possessed a melancholy disquiet.
Brahms’s Third Violin Sonata in D Minor was a wonderful conclusion to the recital; both violinist and pianist played with a gleaming legato that swept aside the elusiveness of the Intermezzos and shone with confidence. The Allegro begins with a sustained A on the E-string which rises a fourth to D before spilling into melody, recalling the opening theme of Prokofiev’s Sonata which employs these exact pitches, while also emphasising Repin’s stylistic precision and wholesomeness. The violinist’s playing was characterised by elegance throughout. The tone was clean and pure, the intonation true. After the lyrical gentility of the first movement, Repin found a dark richness in the Adagio’s espressivo G-string melody which was complemented by the luxurious harmonies of the accompaniment, before the melody climbed gradually to the suavely executed, warm chains of falling thirds. The Scherzo was a sprightly dance, restrained yet evocative, giving way to outbursts of emotion and rhapsodizing which suggested submerged mystery. The Presto agitato was fast and furious, the two performers engaging in an energised conversation marked equally by vehemence and co-dependence, and delivered with unwavering assurance and virtuosity.
A salon miniature was offered as an encore but it diminished rather than enhanced the focused intensity that the players had established in this immensely satisfying performance.