City of London Festival – Maxim Rysanov & Katya Apekisheva

Suite in D minor for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV1007 [arr. for viola]
The Two Sisters
Danish Memories Suite [arr. Alan Gibbs; World premiere]
Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D821 [transcribed for viola and piano]

Maxim Rysanov (viola) & Katya Apekisheva (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 6 July, 2011
Venue: St Vedast Alias Foster, Foster Lane, London EC2

Maxim Rysanov. Photograph: Pavel KozhevnikovFor his third visit to the City of London Festival in four years, Maxim Rysanov brought with him a world premiere transcription of Percy Grainger, part of an early-evening programme of transcriptions for the viola that worked extremely well together. He was further complemented by the venue, the Christopher Wren-restored St Vedast Alias Foster. Sitting just a stone’s throw from St Paul’s underground station, the building has an extremely receptive acoustic that suited the Bach in particular, the audience facing each other across the choir stalls while Rysanov stood in the middle. The transcription of one of J. S. Bach’s darker cello suites suited the tone of Rysanov’s viola, especially as he chose an approach that was selective in its use of vibrato. The stark opening bars had a greater impact because of this, and while he opted to embellish the closing chords rather than leave them bare, the ornamentation was tasteful. The subsequent dance movements were quick off the mark, especially the ‘Courante’ which hurried along, but the ‘Sarabande’ took the necessary step back for contemplation.

The audience was possibly fooled by Grainger, which wouldn’t have been a first from a composer with a famous sense of humour! The Two Sisters was one warmly expressive movement, which tricked several into applause after just one section of the Danish Memories Suite. The first performance of this arrangement, by Alan Gibbs, could have received greater billing, given it was a premiere, but it charmed nonetheless with its attractive melodies. The cat-and-mouse Rysanov enjoyed with the attentive Katya Apekisheva was especially enjoyable in the first movement, ‘The Maiden and the Frog’, though the pianist was a touch loud with her staccato in the ‘Husband and Wife’ jig. This is music with a smile on its face, however, and the second movement (‘Bridal Lullaby’) found a nice line in portamento and even a hint of quartertones.

Rysanov and Apekisheva gave an exceptional performance of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata (the arpeggione being a now-extinct five-string instrument). Arranged for viola, there was a real sense of melancholy in the opening, with no vibrato and a most effective turn of phrase from the pianist with the first melody, but gradually the springy dance music asserted itself, winning through only for the music to return to the coldness of the opening. The silvery tone of the viola lent an elegiac air to the Adagio, which was both affectionate and longing, and willing to spend time with its thoughts before the transition to the finale, its vigorous dance interludes again successful, helped by Apekisheva’s crisp and appealing playing and lightly humorous turn of phrase.

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