Vadim Repin, Mischa Maisky & Lang Lang at Royal Festival Hall [Rachmaninov, Mendelssohn & Tchaikovsky]

Trio élégiaque No.1 in G minor
Piano Trio No.1 in D minor, Op.49
Piano Trio in A minor, Op.50

Vadim Repin (violin), Mischa Maisky (cello) & Lang Lang (piano)

Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Reviewed: 19 May, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vadim Repin. Photograph: Olaf Heinedg/DGA sell-out was inevitable, as was the unwarranted standing ovation at the concert’s end, but there were still surprises to be had during this recital. Of the three musicians, Lang Lang seemed the most comfortable in the totally unsuitable space of the Royal Festival Hall and, unsurprisingly, most at ease with the whooping and cheering rock-star greeting afforded by the delirious audience. Vadim Repin’s dubious contribution was largely lost; Mischa Maisky’s was better calibrated to the scale of the auditorium, but Lang Lang proved to be a sensitive chamber musician, even if his old tricks came to the fore whenever he played alone.

Mischa Maisky. ©Mat Hennek/DG It was a match presumably made by Deutsche Grammophon’s accountants; you wouldn’t put these artists together out of choice and all that really seems to connect them is their exclusive contracts to the yellow label. Tellingly, they were most comfortable in the two works already recorded for DG, the Rachmaninov and the Tchaikovsky. The former’s one-movement G minor Trio (one of two subtitled ‘élégiaque’) is early (1892) but displays the knack for doom-laden atmosphere that Rachmaninov would later be the master of. Its short duration set the stall early for these performers; Maisky remained impassioned throughout the programme while Repin disappointed with his all-too-frequent slips of intonation and strangulated tone.

Lang Lang was the master of finely controlled textures in Mendelssohn’s D minor Trio and, despite the copious difficulties of the concerto-like piano part, was always well balanced with his colleagues. Not for him, though, the simplicity of the Andante; its opening melody was bent and distorted with little concern for line. Maisky also overcooked his melodies, favouring an almost-feverish vibrato when a Lang Lang. Photograph: Felix Broederadiant cantabile was called for. He, though, gradated his sound appropriately for the vast auditorium, which Repin couldn’t manage; he was the weak link when the group seemed to be heading in the right direction. No-one seemed happy in the manic rattle through the scherzo and finale, though, and no-one was in control of the runaway train of a performance which often threatened to derail.

Repin was more settled in the Tchaikovsky and Maisky more subtle in his expressive gestures, all combining to make the Tchaikovsky a happier experience. The work itself came out of the tragedy of Nikolai Rubinstein’s early death in 1881. The grief weighs heavily on the first of the work’s two movements and returns to bring a funeral pall over the conclusion. It’s a piece of huge contrasts with much of the Theme and Variations second-movement expounding the warmth and generosity of Rubinstein’s character. Lang Lang was at home in the sparkling wit of these commentaries and the players finally seemed to be working together in the rushing and boisterous final section that turns so suddenly to sorrow. A shame, then, that the resulting ovation was repaid with a faster dash through Mendelssohn’s scherzo, even-more splashy and frantic than before.

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