Vadim Repin & Nikolaï Lugansky

Sonata in G minor for Violin and Piano
Sonata in A for Piano and Violin, Op.47 (Kreutzer)

Vadim Repin (violin) & Nikolaï Lugansky (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 1 October, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Vadim RepinAs to the superb quality of playing on offer throughout this demanding programme there could be little doubt. Musically, the results of this collaboration between Vadim Repin and Nikolaï Lugansky – a genuine partnership of equals – were rather more varied though seldom less than engrossing.

Debussy’s Violin Sonata, his last completed work, was conceived at the height of the First World War and intended as one of a sequence of French sonatas harking back to the musical traditions of Rameau and Couperin as well as a conscious riposte to German influences. By the time of its composition in late 1916 and early 1917 Debussy was already fatally ill with cancer, enduring a sequence of operations and unremitting pain. Unsurprisingly there is as one of Debussy biographers (Léon Vallas) puts it, “An impotent vehemence about it” suggesting “a struggle against death, particularly noticeable in the repetition of yearning melodies.” For all the duo’s imposing security – there were fine individual moments such as the first movement’s magisterial ending – frequently it felt as though the music’s essential fluidité and fantasy eluded them, for instance in the central movement where the world of Children’s Corner never seems far away, and forcefulness often replaced finesse.

Ever the musical magpie, Stravinsky’s Divertimento – different to the more-familiar orchestral work of that name (but both with their origins in the ballet The Fairy’s Kiss) – in which the composer cannibalises (or more charitably re-composes) some of Tchaikovsky’s lesser-known music. Written for Samuel Dushkin, for whom Stravinsky also composed the Violin Concerto, Divertimento (for piano and violin) is a substantial four-movement work.

Nikolaï LuganskyFrom the very first phrase of the opening ‘Sinfonia’ it was clear that we were on home territory, Repin and Lugansky playing with rare freedom, unanimity and panache. Making the most of the Tchaikovskian allusions. Repin produced some gloriously ample tone in the violin’s lower registers and a sure-footed power and security in the finale’s treacherous upper reaches. Above all this was Stravinsky not just at his wittiest but also with heart and affection.

Having heard Lugansky in the ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata with Liza Ferschtman earlier this year at Norway’s Risor Festival, one had a fair inkling of what to expect. However, it has to be said that the partnership of Lugansky and Repin was a far more natural pairing, both performers sharing an overtly emotional response to Beethoven’s grandest violin sonata (whereas Ferschtman is a more reined-in player in the classical tradition). Heifetz recorded the work with Moiseiwitsch, another great Rachmaninov pianist, a version that Heifetz disliked because he felt the piano was too much in evidence. One suspects he would have felt much the same about having as equal a partner as Lugansky, but the reality is that the Kreutzer demands a soloist in the piano role.

This was a no-holds-barred account on the grandest possible scale. For all its undoubted splendour, it sometimes gave the impression of the ‘Kreutzer’ viewed with the benefit of hindsight as if revisited through the prism of all the major violin sonatas that have followed. The outer movements stood this full-on treatment best, the first one fast but not frenetic. There was a similar bounding energy to the finale’s manic jig although a lighter touch would have helped the music dance and left room for greater light and shade. Where the interpretation was at its least successful was in the central Variations, which lacked repose – especially the second one that positively sped by – and provided too little in the way of contrast. That said, seldom is one treated to so full-bodied and so bracing a response to Beethoven’s grandest violin sonata.

Drawing us back to the world of Stravinsky’s Divertimento, Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo was the well-chosen and superbly despatched encore.

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