Fünf Stücke im Volkston, Op.102 Nos. 2, 3 & 4
Variations sérieuses, Op.54
Capriccio for oboe and piano, Op.80
Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe) & Lidija Bizjak (piano)
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: 8 May, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Alexei Ogrintchouk, principal oboe of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, has been a BBC New Generation Artist since 2005, and his reputation is growing fast.
This varied lunchtime programme gave an appropriate platform to showcase his talents, though it took a little while to get going. It was unclear from the programme who arranged Schumann’s folk-pieces from the cello originals, but they worked relatively well in their new guise. However the Langsam marking for No.2 was taken rather too much to heart, and was a little too mannered, though Ogrintchouk still demonstrated exceptional phrase control. Nicht Schnell found Lidija Bizjak’s accompaniment rather muddy, but the two redeemed this in the spirited third piece.
The real meat of the concert came in two sets of variations. Britten’s received a dramatic, stormy performance that was immediately gripping, Bizjak’s foreboding piano chords uncomfortably on edge. The ‘March’ and ‘Exercise’ sections that followed had a barely suppressed violence that was temporarily quashed by the tranquil ‘Chorale’, beautifully controlled by the pianist, before the final section marked ‘Resolution’, where Ogrintchouk stuck resolutely to his two-note phrase as Bizjak struck dissonant bell-tolls.
Bizjak returned alone for Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, a searching score that remains one of the composer’s most-valued piano works. Bizjak began relatively calmly with the melancholic theme and began to bring out the Bach-like figuration of the subsequent variations, increasing in tempo and intensity as she did so. Her fortissimo climaxes were most impressive in their clarity, loud but never harsh, and the calm she offered in a brief glimpse of a sublime D major was swept away as the music returned to turbulence. The softly spoken ending was all the more moving as a result.
Ogrintchouk then joined her for Nielsen’s ‘fantasy pieces in playful mood’, with a few knowing asides to the audience in the ‘Humoresque’, and then it was on to the concert’s showpiece. Ponchielli’s Capriccio initially seemed harmless and fun in the majestic piano introduction, hammed up by Bizjak, but it soon tested the oboist to the limit with thrilling sequential runs and acrobatic cadenzas. The two enjoyed some unashamed virtuoso banter but at the same time took care to bring out the lyricism of the central Romanza.