Maxim Rysanov & Katya Apekisheva at Wigmore Hall

Suite in C minor for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV1010 [arr. for viola]
Bridge, arr. Britten
There is a willow grows aslant a brook
Sonata in E flat for Viola and Piano, Op.120/2

Maxim Rysanov (viola) & Katya Apekisheva (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 3 November, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A trio of transcriptions, all endorsed by original composers, made up an intriguing BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert.

Maxim RysanovIt is not known who arranged for viola Bach’s C minor Suite for solo cello suite, but given the relative doubts behind the exact nature of the instrument for which Bach was writing it is fair to assume the composer would know about and sanction a viola version. Detuning his top string from ‘A’ to ‘G’ as required, Rysanov took a thoughtful approach both in structure and lyricism, a performance that took a broad view of tempo and a potential for rubato.

The emotional centre of this performance was the ‘Sarabande’; time almost standing still in the softly repeated sections, with the unusual melodic contours giving the piece an otherworldly quality. To a lesser extent this also occurred in the ‘Prelude’, the big introduction settling with selective use of vibrato, and in a slower ‘Allemande’, roomy and expressive.

Katya ApekishevaThis is the only one of the six cello suites not to find a full sense of resolution in the concluding ‘Gigue’, and Rysanov managed that false expectation very well, breaking the spell of the ‘Sarabande’ in a fluid first ‘Gavotte’, and then restoring the tension in the second one. This carried through to the ‘Gigue’, its elusive rhythms dying away softly at the end. If only a couple of audience members hadn’t offered a few ill-timed coughs, this subtly intense performance would have been more fully appreciated.

Benjamin Britten’s imagination saw the orchestral work of his teacher Frank Bridge blossom in his arrangement for Bridge’s own instrument. Coming straight after the Bach it also made sense in a withdrawn but evocative opening, the sun gradually shining through in a warmly expressive central section. Katya Apekisheva helped to set the scene here, with sensitive use of the sustaining pedal, and Bridge’s more contemplative moments were airy yet with a sense of the fantastical.

The pianist’s phrase direction was rather more choppy in the louder octaves demanded in the first movement of the Brahms, yet this too blossomed into a fine performance. Though originally for the clarinet of Richard Mühlfeld, Brahms’s final published chamber work is darkly effective in its viola arrangement, with Rysanov’s fuller tone particularly suiting the central Allegro appassionato.

Though he achieved a nice sense of stillness at the end of the first movement, the jewel in this performance was the Theme and five Variations comprising the finale. These included a lightly voiced second, with a hint of the dance, and a fifth that moved quickly from Apekisheva’s sudden outburst to a resolution of surprising power and affirmation.

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