Razumovsky Ensemble at Wigmore Hall [Prokofiev, Brahms & Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence]

Prokofiev
Sonata for Two Violins in C, Op.56
Brahms
String Sextet No.1 in B flat, Op.18
Tchaikovsky
Souvenir de Florence, Op.70

Razumovsky Ensemble [Daishin Kashimoto & Alexander Sitkovetsky (violins), Krzysztof Chorselski & Andriy Vyitovych(violas) and Alexander Chaushian & Oleg Kagen (cellos)]


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 6 January, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Alexander Sitkovetsky. Photograph: www.dianesaldick.comThe Razumovsky Ensemble – more specifically, those musicians that perform under its aegis – can be relied upon for dynamic music-making, and so it proved in a recital comprising three oddly matched works that might have made a more cohesive programme had the order been a slightly different one.

Certainly Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins (1932) seemed cast adrift at the start of the evening, whereas its astringent harmony and angular counterpoint would have been heard in more productive relief placed between the two sextets. That said, Daishin Kashimoto and Alexander Sitkovetsky were soulfulness itself in the initial Andante – its subdued though hardly muted emotion vividly countered by the motoric drive of the Allegro, prior to the oblique humour of the intermezzo-like Commodo and rhetorical decisiveness of the closing Allegro. If the players could have pressed home its climactic transformation of the opening theme more ardently, this didn’t undermine the persuasive reading as a whole; nor that of a piece now staking its claim among the most fully realised among that quirky assortment of works from immediately before the composer’s return to the Soviet Union.

Andriy Vyitovych. Photograph: www.razumovsky.org.ukMore the pity if its elusiveness seemed rather cancelled out by Brahms’s First String Sextet (1860) which followed. Unlike its more lucid successor, the present work revels in the weight of sonority and intensive dialogue made possible by the ‘double trio’ formation. A committed account fell short only in the most distinctive movement – the Andante’s variations on an inherently Bachian rendering of the theme ‘La folia’, whose abrupt contrasts of texture and expression failed to secure a seamless overall follow-through. Otherwise, the opening movement’s long-term thematic evolution was trenchantly delivered – as was the scherzo’s alternation between the jocular and the energetic, and also the finale’s deceptively understated progress toward a coda which, as with that of the first movement, offsets the prolonged soul-searching with insouciance made the more disarming in context.

Tchaikovsky was famously antithetical to Brahms’s music, and his Souvenir de Florence (1892) could almost be heard as a riposte in its melody-driven discourse and full-blooded emotion. Not that, despite its subtitle, this is at all a slighter piece; such as the Razumovsky players underlined with a coursing Allegro – its thematic contrasts drawn more explicitly than in any of the symphonies – then an Adagio whose heady expression never risked overkill (for all that the tremolo middle section seemed almost incidental). The latter movements are often considered to be less inspired, though there was little to fault in an Allegretto whose dance-inflected rhythms were so vigorously propelled and, if the finale’s pivoting between melodic and fugal writing seems a shade dutiful, the coda’s uninhibited verve could not fail in its impact. Here, as throughout, the Razumovsky performers did not disappoint.


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