United Kingdom Vasks, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky – Young Soloists of the Kronberg Academy: Vadim Gluzman, Lara Boschkor (violin), Diyang Mei, Karolina Errera (viola), Ivan Karizna, Erica Piccotti (cello). Wigmore Hall, London, 26.9.2021. (AK)
Pēteris Vasks – The Fruit of Silence (2013, rev.2016)
Prokofiev – Sonata in C for 2 violins, Op.56 (1932)
Tchaikovsky – Souvenir de Florence, Op.70 (1890, rev.1891-2)
Judging by this concert, the Kronberg Academy – the brainchild of founder and chairman Raimund Trenkler – does exceptional work with young musicians. Situated in the rural town of Kronberg, at the foot of the Taunus mountains in Germany, the Academy offers a variety of educational projects, all aimed at supporting excellence. Originally founded only for string players, more recently chamber music studies with piano were added within the framework of the ‘Sir András Schiff Performance Programme for Young Pianists’.
This concert at the Wigmore Hall was the culmination of violinist Vadim Guzman’s periodical masterclasses/workshops at the Academy. Kronberg provided him with excellent young artists, and they in turn had the chance of working with a great violinist, great musician and great teacher of genuine humility. The most noticeable aspect of this concert was the evident aim of unity; clearly there was no attempt to present the event as that of the master and his students. The musical influence and direction of Gluzman was audible throughout but there was no visual indication as to who was in charge. Indeed, this concert could be regarded as a masterclass in how to lead a musical ensemble without evident visual demonstration of who is in charge.
The participating young artists are in their twenties; violinist Lara Boschkor and cellist Erica Piccotti are only 21 years of age; the other players 27, 28 and 29 respectively. All five brought a wealth of significant musical experience with them but, clearly, all are keen to learn. Between the five of them they represented Belorussia, China, Germany, Italy and Russia; their mentor Vadim Gluzman added his Ukrainian/Latvian/Israeli/American heritage to the mix.
The Fruit of Silence by Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks was composed in 2013, to a short five-line poem by Mother Teresa; it was commissioned by the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival for mixed choir a capella. It is not entirely clear what exactly the text is, although the meaning is crystal clear. In Andrew Stewart’s programme notes the five line-poem is quoted:
The fruit of silence is prayer,
The fruit of silence is faith,
The fruit of silence is love,
The fruit of silence is service,
The fruit of silence is peace.
In Vasks’ scores (of all versions) the poem is shown differently:
The fruit of silence is prayer,
The fruit of prayer is faith,
The fruit of faith is love,
The fruit of love is service,
The fruit of service is peace.
Vasks later arranged his 2013 original composition (for mixed choir a capella) by a version with piano accompaniment, and then a setting with string orchestra. A piano quintet (2015) and string quartet (2016) followed, thus facilitating the composition to be performed without the words.
It is likely that the string quartet version is the nearest to the original composition for mixed choir a capella (although I was unable to look at the original score). Most probably the string parts in the quartet take over the Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass parts of the choir. The strings certainly sang beautifully on their instruments at this concert, with Gluzman playing second violin (and treating us to some lovely inner voice presentation near the beginning). The ensemble work was perfect and the visual experience was matched by the beauty of the sound: the two men (Gluzman and Diyang Mei) in the middle, the two young ladies (Boschkor and Piccotti) in tasteful, elegant dresses framing them.
Both parts of the four-movement two-violin Prokofiev sonata are extremely difficult, probably intended for virtuoso players. The material is full of demanding double stops (including four-part chords), fast passages, a variety of advanced bowing technique: it seems Prokofiev included all technical difficulties he could think of. Credit is due to young Boschkor for negotiating the difficulties with seeming ease and for partnering Gluzman for whom Prokofiev (alongside with many other composers) seems to be his musical mother tongue. (Gluzman’s controlled bow speed in the muted third movement produced some wonderful cantilena playing.)
As Gluzman reminded us before Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, Tchaikovsky dedicated his violin concerto to Leopold Auer who, initially, had misgivings about the concerto but in due course championed it. The Stradivari violin once belonging to Auer – and on which he played the concerto many times – is now played by Gluzman: indeed, hearing Tchaikovsky’s music played on the Auer Stradivari violin is a special privilege. Especially as played by Gluzman.
Unlike on many other occasions by a variety of chamber groups, this performance of the Souvenir de Florence made perfect sense and created perfect artistic balance. It was not loud and passionate throughout (as so often); the polyphonic entries/inner voices were transparent, the dynamic range (as carefully marked by Tchaikovsky) caringly observed. The main tune for the solo violin in the second movement (Adagio) was beautifully prepared/delivered by Gluzman and appropriately echoed by cellist Ivan Karizna. This movement was sketched by Tchaikovsky while staying in Florence, hence the title Souvenir de Florence for the whole sextet. Yet for sure the music is deeply steeped in Russian music, Florence in the title can be misleading. The eight-bar theme of the third movement, a Russian folk song (whether original or composed), was delivered with gentle care and sensitivity by viola player Karolina Errera, later echoed also by the other instruments although mainly by the first violin. The performance of the final movement reminded of Tchaikovsky as composer for ballet/dance: it was played with gusto and tight rhythms, holding back at times to make the climaxes all the more powerful. Auer’s violin (in Gluzman’s hands) and the other participants gave us Tchaikovsky at its best.