A Glorious Recital by Patricia Kopatchinskaja and Polina Leschenko

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Webern, Schumann, Bartók, Ravel: Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin); Polina Leschenko (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 27.3.2017. (CC)

Webern – Four Pieces, Op.7 (1910)

Schumann – Violin Sonata in D minor, Op.121

Bartók – Violin Sonata No.2 (1922)

Ravel Tzigane (1924)

This was a glorious recital by two vibrant performers. It was lovely to see a full house for a programme that began with Webern, although whether the lack of applause between the Webern and the Schumann was because of rapt attention or uncertainty whether the piece had concluded may be up for discussion.

Webern’s works are ultra-rarefied. Every note, every gesture tells a whole story concentrated down into the tiniest musical spaces. Composed in1910, a critical time for music, Webern’s Four Pieces for violin and piano present huge challenges to performers and listeners alike. Rightly, the performers waited for silence before embarking on the micro-journey. Kopatchinskaja’s blanched, high opening took us to a cold, uninviting world. She is not one to use vibrato willy-nilly – in fact, all of the performances were marked by admirable restraint in this regard. Russian pianist Polina Leschenko found warmth in her offerings, balancing the equation. Webern’s impression of a Scherzo follows in the Rasch, angry and ferocious, before the tempering, nocturnal Sehr langsam offered some shade. The final Bewegt is tiny but bold, finding Kopatchinskaja ready to access the lowest dynamics. Webern as it should be, then – unapologetically difficult yet infinitely powerful.

The Schumann Second Violin Sonata is a large, four-movement piece. Interestingly, Kopatchinskaja’s raw sound was an integral part of her armoury here, allowing maximal contrast to the lyrical moments. The first movement was incredibly urgent, yet also incredibly accurate from both performers. Ensemble was astonishingly managed. It was Polina Leschenko’s singing legato that was so impressive here. Chamber music at its finest, one could argue. And so it continued, with Kopatchinskaja finding a lovely half-voice in the Scherzo. The third movement is a set of variations on the chorale Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ; here, the effect was of a beautiful and gradual opening out, perfectly calibrated. A wonderfully wide-ranging movement, it led to the high-on-character finale. The feeling of the two performers thinking as one was remarkable, and yet one was aware of each one’s individual character.

Bartók’s two-movement Second Violin Sonata of 1922 is a tough nut to crack. As was the case with the Webern, Kopatchinskaja and Leschenko’s approach was uncompromising, the piano’s lines and chords intelligently voiced and the violin lines incredibly haunting. There was an element of what may be called “tranquil atonality” about this first movement before the explosive accents of the wild and frantic dance of the concluding movement took over. Kopatchinskaja’s pure virtuosity shone through here. It is difficult to imagine a finer performance, in fact – completely convincing throughout.

Ravel’s Tzigane is a showpiece par excellence. The extensive solo violin first section (half the length of the piece, approximately) was very eloquent, the gypsy melodies deeply charged. Kopatchinskaja has such a presence on stage that the entire section was riveting. The fact she clearly likes taking risks simply adds to the drama. The second part of the piece ends with a traditional accelerando, including a tipsy dance and incredibly rapid pizzicato from the violin.

Encores were inevitable. The first was the witty Rag-Gidon-Time by Giya Kancheli (written in 1995), followed by the famous Hora Staccato by Grigoraş Dinicu. Kopatchinskaja has previously been associated with the music of Kancheli, recording his music with Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica for ECM. In fact it is worth noting that Kopatchinskaja’s discography reflects the wide-ranging nature of her musical curiosity, from Schumann (the Violin Concerto conducted by Heinz Holliger for Audite) to Ustvolskaya and Mansurian on ECM. Leschenko’s discography might be smaller, but it includes some interesting items, including Medtner’s Forgotten Melodies, Op.38 coupled with Rachmaninov (Second Sonata) and Mischa Levitski for the Avanti Classic label.

Colin Clarke

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