Brandenburg Concerto No.6 in B flat, BWV1051
Violin Concerto in A, K219
Six Contredanses, K462
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires [arr. Leonid Desyatnikov]
Maxim Rysanov (viola)
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Julian Rachlin (violin & viola)
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 19 July, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
There is no doubt as to what the Brandenburg Concertos are for: to enjoy! Their musical invention delights the ear. That much is clear, but, here, there was a lack of substance. Playing the concerto were the two solo violas, three cellos, a bass and a rather lackadaisical harpsichord. The opening movement’s tempo is not indicated by Bach, but is usually, as here, played Allegro. Amongst some moments of attack there was an unusually warm tone. In places the pace was too leisurely; more immediacy was needed. The Adagio was delicately phrased and seemed to make its mark subliminally. The piece was rounded off with a dance-like Allegro which possessed some dramatic dynamics, so far as Bach allows.
Julian Rachlin, having swapped his viola for a violin, returned to direct the Academy in Mozart’s last violin concerto, written when the composer was about nineteen. There was actually minimal direction from Rachlin, just the odd gesture to whip the players into shape – perfectly adequate. What was obvious throughout the music was how much this concerto leans towards what would follow with the Romantics. The cadenza played in the first movement was by Joseph Joachim (the one in the finale was Ernst Hess’s), which allowed Rachlin to display some rapid figurations in its brief virtuosity. The Adagio was sensuous and full-bodied (a responsive set of players were on display here) with the finale in possession of some whirlwind action.
Mozart’s Country Dances are miniature pieces are delightful with some cast on a rather grand scale, with the others more like a light confection.
Piazzolla’s Four Seasons were originally four quite separate pieces, scored for violin, electric guitar, piano, bass and bandóneon and performed by the composer’s own nuevo tango band. The arrangement heard here was made in the late 1990s for solo violin and strings by Leonid Desyatnikov, who gave the music its echoes of Baroque and the sound of Vivaldi’s own Four Seasons. The extraordinary sounds and technical demands that the solo violin has to make were so high ithat a round of applause was offered between the movements. The Presto of Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ and his Allegro non molto of ‘Winter’ loom large in Piazzolla’s music, perhaps a bit too obviously.
The characteristics of each Season are quite tricky to discern: in any event, Buenos Aires is close to the equator and so does not really have seasons as we know them, though it has just snowed there for the first time in about two decades! If the character of the Seasons was not that distinguishable, this did not detract from the joy of listening to this unique music. Bizarre glissandos are a regular feature, as is playing on the bridge of the instruments, with plenty of lacerating effects in the lower registers. In the second piece, ‘Autumn’, there is a searching solo cello contribution with a heartbeat accompaniment from a bass. ‘Winter’ gave the Academy much scope for displays of elegance, but there were also some unexpected shifts in mood, from violence to calm.
‘Spring’ possesses some incisive scoring but is, in the main, seductive. The solo violin’s acrobatics were breathtaking and rounded off a captivating performance. Certainly, some will see a lot of this music as a cheap take-off of Vivaldi, but that misses the point. There was a most welcome encore of ‘Winter’.