City of London Festival – Maxim Rysanov & Evgeny Samoyloff

Suite in C minor for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV1010 [arr. for viola]
Sonata in G for viola da gamba and continuo, BWV1027 [arr. for viola and piano]
Sonata in C minor for Viola and Piano

Maxim Rysanov (viola) & Evgeny Samoyloff (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 7 July, 2008
Venue: St Anne & St Agnes, Gresham Street, London EC2

Maxim RysanovIt seemed rather appropriate that storm-clouds hung over St Agnes & St Anne for this early-evening recital, the ninth of twelve City of London Festival concerts exploring Christopher Wren churches.

Bach’s C minor Suite for unaccompanied cello is certainly his darkest, and with the atmospheric lighting and Rysanov’s initially brooding appearance it was a performance with a sombre air. Of all the six suites for cello this is probably the one transcribing best to viola, and where some of the richness of the cello’s lower register was lost, Rysanov secured a viol-like sonority in passages where no vibrato was used.

Most effective was his complete lack of urgency in the ‘Sarabande’, so that the repeats – given pianissimo – took on a timeless quality. This technique worked well too when applied to the ‘Courante’, though this was given at a rather more relaxed tempo than is customary. So too the ‘Prelude’, lacking forward drive initially but picking up most emphatically with the arrival of the fugue.

The arrangement of Bach’s first published Sonata for viola da gamba and continuo was less effective, as too often the viola and piano found themselves in a similar range, but again there was a keen sense of musicality in a meticulously prepared performance. Once more Rysanov was keen to use a very quiet sound during the slower music, and there was a perceptively darker tone to the music here also, despite its sunnier melodic language. Evgeny Samoyloff struggled occasionally with his rhythmic projection, but was careful in his use of the pedal, the two finding common ground as the music progressed.

The inclusion of the young Mendelssohn’s Viola Sonata provided a satisfying link to one of the festival themes, Goethe, for whom he was a friend and J. S. Bach a favourite composer.

For a 14-year-old to write such accomplished music is little short of staggering, and as with much of Mendelssohn’s early chamber works this Sonata is a precocious invention with more than a little sense of “Sturm und Drang”, refusing here even to end the finale’s variations in a major key, turning back inside for the moto perpetuo rush to the finish. Even here – and possibly this was down to the performers’ nationality – there were early hints of Tchaikovsky, and Samoyloff was technically most assured as he wholeheartedly conquered the difficult piano part, with its athletic arpeggios.

The scherzo, too, was nimble and veered between rhythmic vitality and brief bursts of sunlit lyricism. There could have been more of a smile when the trio’s major chord made itself known for the first time, though this was rectified as the section progressed. The work’s solemn introduction proved the key, with Rysanov’s full tone and Samoyloff’s responsive accompaniment ensuring the scene was set, the start of a hugely satisfying performance.

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