A musical Ukraine tribute and other rich rewards from Gidon Kremer and friends

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schumann, Igor Laboda, Victoria Polevá, Rachmaninov: Gidon Kremer (violin), Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė (cello), Georgijs Osokins (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 20.2.2022. (CC)

Gidon Kremer (violin), Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė (cello) and Georgijs Osokins (piano) (c) Ben Reason

Schumann – Piano Trio No.3 in G minor, Op.110 (1851); Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, WoO 27 (1853)
Igor LobodaRequiem – Dedication to Freedom (2014)
Victoria Polevá – Amapola (2022, world premiere)
RachmaninovTrio élégiaque No.2 in D minor, Op.9 (1893, rev. 1907 & 1917)

Gidon Kremer remains one of the most justly admired musicians on the planet. His work with Kremerata Baltica (from which the two other musicians this evening hailed) has delivered huge gifts to the music-loving community. His humanity and modesty was everywhere evident: for his 75th birthday celebration, Kremer elected to share the stage with two much younger artists; he changed the previously advertised programme to include music by Ukrainian composers.

It was late Schumann that provided for the first half, a characteristically left-field choice. The later works of Schumann are quirky, unpredictable and always beautiful: think of the 1853 Gesänge der Frühe for piano, Op.133, for example. Or the Third Piano trio, performed in this concert, a work of sublime beauty. Kremer, in an interview printed on the freesheet with the concert, has stated that he wants ‘to be an advocate of all that he [Schumann] has shared with us’. The confluence of youthful energy with wisdom provided a creative crossroads at which lay the most profound music-making. The sense of dialogue between players in the first movement was the very essence of chamber music, the music’s ebb and flow perfectly judged. The strings’ radiant melodies of the second movement ‘Ziemlich langsam’ (Dirvanauskaitė’s cello singing particularly powerfully) were balanced by the piquant accents of the third movement, marked simply ‘Rasch’. It was the sense of organic growth in the slow movement that was so compelling; phrases seemed to unfold like slowly opening flowers at dawn. If Osokins was perhaps a touch too self-effacing in the earlier movements, his sensitivity slowly dawned on the listener as the performance progressed. The finale dripped with character from each player, whether the slightly folksy piano breaks or the perfectly calibrated crescendos, or the finely honed moments of repose. The odd slip in intonation was hardly enough to detract from this celebration of late Schumann.

And there was more to come, Kremer and Osokins’s performance of the Violin Sonata in A minor, WoO 27. This sonata is Schumann’s rounding out of the two movements he had contributed to the composite FAE Sonata (the Romance and finale) into a full standalone sonata. Although performed in Schumann’s lifetime, the work was not published until 1956 and fittingly had its first public performance in March of that year at Wigmore Hall. The care lavished on the music’s surface by Kremer and Osokins cannot be exaggerated – moments such as Kremer’s blanched tone against the piano’s staccato or Osokins’s intelligent handling of the virtuoso piano part contributed to the convincing nature of the interpretation. Accordingly, a sense of space to the first movement meant the scherzo made full effect. For all its rhythmic sway it was perhaps the whispered confidences of the intermezzo that held the heart of true chamber music. Another aspect of Schumann’s organically unfolding melodies on display here – a sense of unending melody, of silken line spun endlessly. Magical textures suffused the finale juxtaposed with granite blocks of sound: remarkable.

We were originally due a Nocturne for violin and piano by Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1934), a composer long associated with Kremer. But instead, Kremer offered a tribute to the Ukraine in music from two of its composers, one a world premiere on which, from his description, the ink was probably still wet. First, a piece for solo violin by Igor Loboda (born 1956), his Requiem – Dedication to Freedom, a four-minute soulful song based on folk material. Dedicated by Kremer to the Ukrainians’ ‘endless suffering’, his performance was spellbinding. The piece is suffused with stoppings, here performed impeccably and acting as clear intensifiers; left-hand pizzicato (on top of the stopping) added to the feeling of a lament. The final pizzicatos dissolved into the most poignant silence. The next piece seemed a prolongation of rumination – Victoria Vita Polevá’s Amapola for piano trio, a deeply expressive, slow-moving piece with hints, harmonically perhaps of Philip Glass and spiritually of Arvo Pärt and leaving a lasting impression of unspoken ritual. Kremer described this work as a ‘present’ received within the last few days; and how remarkable a gift it is.

Many will doubtless be familiar with Kremer and Dirvanauskaitė’s recording of the Rachmaninov Trio élégiaque No.2 on the DG disc Preghiera (there joined by pianist Daniil Trifonov). But this performance was on another, more heartfelt level than that one – the piano’s descending, tolling figure another lament, ‘bells’ ringing against blissfully long cello lines and the most glorious violin responses from Kremer. Pacing throughout was perfect, the initial Moderato again unfolding with remarkable inevitability. The first movement felt so expansive, and so expressive. The long, twenty minute-or-so set of variations that sits in the centre of the work, launched so memorably by Osokins, became a glorious sound field of slowly turning colours as the composer examined his theme with what felt like insatiable curiosity. Again, that sense of natural unfolding gave the performance a perfect sense of rightness. Bookending the concert with two examples of perfect chamber music gave the whole thing a sense of completion, or returning home, the ‘risoluto’ marking of the finale (Allegro risoluto) fully attended to.

One encore: an arrangement of Schubert’s blissful song Du bist die Ruh. The standing ovation that followed was richly deserved; while the inclement weather had clearly driven away some ticketholders (there were spaces), those that braved the elements were richly rewarded.

Colin Clarke

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