Marvellous Chamber Performances from Vadim Repin and Friends

AustriaAustria Brahms and Dvořák: Vadim Repin, Nikita Boriso-Glebsy (violins), Maxim Rysanov (viola), Alexandre Kiniazev (cello), Denis Kozhukhin (piano). Mozart-Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna, 23.6.2019. (MB)

Brahms – Piano Quintet in F minor Op.34

Dvořák – Piano Quintet in A major Op.34

Some might have expected a clash of solo egos with an instrumental line-up such as this. Not a bit of it: the billing ‘Vadim Repin and friends’ seemed very much borne out by what we saw and heard in this Vienna Konzerthaus performance of piano quintets by Brahms and Dvořák.

There are doubtless many ways to sound Brahmsian; we should not be prescriptive. This, from the outset of Brahms’s F minor Quintet, was undoubtedly one of them. Overall line and its ebb and flow were likewise immediately impressive: more often said than done, perhaps particularly in the first two movements. Similarly balance: what, one might have asked, is often held to be the problem? What struck me particularly about the opening Allegro non troppo was both the sense of proximity to and distance from the sound and conversational quality of a Classical chamber ensemble, and the character of themes when announced: the latter something for which, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, Schoenberg consistently lauded Mozart, many of whose techniques he also claimed to have learned more consciously via Brahms. ‘I found’, Schoenberg once told a pupil, ‘that if he [Mozart] has a scene in which there are several characters or moods, then he would construct a theme in the beginning of this scene which contains at once as many elements as necessary to contain the later coming moods.’ Such was what we heard here. Another distance relished was that of the development from home – until, that is, we were (tonally) home for a recapitulation that proved a true second development.

The opening piano quartet music to the second movement (minus Nikita Boriso-Glebsy’s second violin) left us in no doubt concerning this music’s complexity. Somehow Boriso-Glebsy’s first entry, however brief, seemed to ground music that had threatened already to veer off towards Schoenberg. Perhaps that was a conscious straining towards full ensemble; it certainly felt like that. Not that that precluded further complexity, far from it. The Scherzo was taken swiftly indeed – and it worked. Transformation from ghostly to vehement is key to this music. That was very much how it sounded here. Rhythm was rightly grounded in harmony, as opposed to being some thing-in-itself; it was all the stronger for that. There was, quite rightly, no attempt to beautify the Trio, which made the Scherzo’s reprise all the more different. The finale’s opening, reminiscent of late Beethoven in its rarity, fragility, and humanity, offered fertile ground for a veritable explosion of material. Not that its profusion was arbitrary; again it put me in mind of Schoenberg on Mozart.

Dvořák’s A major Piano Quintet opens very differently. Mellow, duetting lyricism between Alexandre Kniazev on cello and Denis Kozhukhin on piano was nonetheless emphatically, unanimously brought to an end by the whole ensemble, setting up a polarity that would run through the performance as a whole. I was especially struck by the limpidity of Kozhukhin’s playing and golden yet variegated playing from Maxim Rysanov on viola; but truth be told, every musician’s playing was outstanding. Perhaps the overall tone was richer than in Brahms: a reflection, I suspect, of the greater, or more overt, lyricism on display. Affinities also made themselves apparent, but the expansiveness on offer seemed to owe little to Brahms and more than a little to Schubert. There was a great deal of art concealing art to the ‘Dumka’ (Andante con moto) that followed, properly grounded in harmony as the force through which this music could truly sing. It was Schubert who again came to mind in the high spirits of the Scherzo/Furiant, poles apart from its Brahmsian counterpart. Kozhukhin’s way of reminding us of that material throughout the Trio proved wonderfully compelling. And there was no doubt that the Finale was indeed a finale, relished and communicated as such. It lent a fine sense of coherence to a work that can sometimes seem to meander. A fitting conclusion to a fine concert.

Mark Berry

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