Alexandra Soumm & Plamena Mangova at Wigmore Hall – Mozart, Ysaÿe & Stravinsky

Sonata for Piano and Violin in E flat, K380
Poème élégiaque, Op.12

Alexandra Soumm (violin) & Plamena Mangova (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 20 February, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Alexandra Soumm and Plamena Mangova began this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert with one of Mozart’s more robust statements for piano and violin, a stylistic preview of the Piano Concerto K482 in the same key. The two performers, playing very much as an equal duo, attacked the opening chords with relish, the sound vivid but needing more charm from the piano in these exchanges. The Andante was more delicately shaded, tapping into the melancholy within, but soon we were back in brightly-lit E flat for the finale, Mangova’s tumbling scales clearly articulated but rather dominant. However the ornamentation of the main theme, an attractive bird-like call, was nicely done.

It is a relatively rare occurrence to hear music by Ysaÿe for more than the one instrument for which he wrote so passionately, the solo violin. It was therefore a pleasure to hear the darkly shaded Poème élégiaque (1893), not intended as a memorial to an individual, but dedicated to Fauré. For its unbroken span of some 12 minutes the violinist is instructed to de-tune the G-string to an F, altering the tone quality of the lower register and creating a rich new vein of possibilities for double-stopped chords. Here Soumm’s deeply felt account was offset slightly by lapses of intonation at the very top register, though the overall essence of the piece remained clear, an utterance that relied in the central section on the violinist’s poetic interpretation, just as it did on her virtuosity in the outer sections. Mangova, operating with the piano on its lowest stick, achieved a good balance with her own fully textured part.

Stravinsky’s Divertimento is a violin-and-piano reduction of music from The Fairy’s Kiss made in 1934 in association with Samuel Dushkin. Dushkin, with whom the composer wrote the majority of his music for these forces, was curiously absent from Gerald Larner’s programme note. Soumm and Margova enjoyed their exploration of the plot and colouristic effects, though were limited a little by ‘Danses suisses’ (in the version for orchestra horns and trombones assume centre-stage): the rustic elements of the dance were in place, but the charm this episode needs took a while to arrive. The ‘Scherzo’, a far more natural transcription, was thoroughly convincing, its wide range of techniques and effects employed to the letter. The ‘Pas de Deux’ found Soumm with a full-bodied tone, while the ‘Coda’ was no holds barred, with both players going hammer and tongs – with, in the pianist’s case, a little too much hammer, but the overall performance was an enjoyable one.

Soumm, who has a charming performance manner, modestly offered an encore of Godowsky’s Alt Wien, seemingly given in its arrangement by Jascha Heifetz. It was affectionately played and attractively phrased by both musicians.

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