Seen&Heard Editor: Marc Bridle                              Founder Len Mullenger:

MusicWeb Internet
 powered by FreeFind 

S & H Recital Review

Taneyev, Tchaikovsky: Steven Isserlis, Ivry Gitlis, Pekka Kuusisto, Arisa Fijita, Rachel Roberts, Daniel Müller-Schott, Nelson Goerner; Wigmore Hall, 16th January. (M. E.)


The Taneyev Festival at the Wigmore Hall was inspired by Steven Isserlis' desire to showcase the music of an obviously neglected master, and I can only use that last phrase, since this composer was not previously known to me, or indeed to most of the rest of the audience. Isserlis says that for him, the point of having a Festival is to highlight works which would not otherwise be heard, not to celebrate composers who already have "good P.R.," and it is immensely to his credit and that of the Hall's management that they were prepared to take a chance in organising three concerts based around such a relatively obscure composer. Of course, it helped that Isserlis had gathered around him an extraordinary collection of fellow enthusiasts, from the young Daniel Müller-Schott to the veteran Ivry Gitlis.

The opening work was Taneyev's String Quintet No. 1 in G major, and what a fascinating work it is. Direct, passionate and fiery, it has overtones of the works of many other composers, most notably Schubert and Rimsky-Korsakov, yet its most striking characteristic is its individuality; this is vigorous, densely textured music which might best be described as attempting to fuse the Germanic and Russian traditions, with some success. Taneyev was a highly academic, learned musician, who Tchaikovsky described as ".the greatest master of counterpoint in Russia..." and this mastery is evident throughout the Quintet, which is nevertheless extraordinarily accessible on first hearing, thanks to its variety and lyrical qualities.

Using the Schubert division of instruments rather than the Mozart, the Quintet begins with a highly spirited Allegro incorporating elements of folk-song as well as more obviously classical elements, and continuing with a series of variations within which the players function as temporary virtuosi; the ninth one is perhaps the most original, with its strangely angular style, but the final one is the most beautiful - parts of it have that juxtaposition of serenity and anxiety normally associated with Schubert. This innovative, advanced, complex music manages to delight the ear on first hearing as well as challenge the intellect, and I look forward to learning more about this fascinating composer who was such a profound influence on his contemporaries.

Isserlis and his collaborators played it with tremendous gusto, commitment and passion, despite one or two awkward moments in ensemble between the violins, and it was highly entertaining to watch the differing performing styles on display, Kuusisto equalling Isserlis in his flamboyant stage manner at one extreme, and Müller-Schott playing with beautiful serenity at the other.

The second work was Tchaikovsky's A minor Piano Trio, which Ivry Gitlis had, amazingly, learnt especially for this performance. Whether or not this would account for his less than ideal playing is a matter of conjecture, but his style seems rather reminiscent of a bygone age, especially in its method of attack. The violin dominated the overall sound, although in the lovely, poignant slow movement he did manage to rein himself in to produce some flowing tone. Some of the violin/'cello dialogues were affected by the violin's off-pitch sourness, although Isserlis never once looked as though the experience was anything other than rapturous. The pianist Nelson Goerner provided solid, musical support throughout, especially in the challenging fifth variation.

The audience gave the Taneyev an ecstatic reception, and rightly so, for this exciting work was played with real verve and that all-too-rare sense of excited partisanship, but the Tchaikovsky was received with a somewhat less unified attitude; amongst the applause and cheering there was a fair amount of booing, too, occasioned presumably by the wayward playing of the first violin. Such frankness, or if you prefer, rudeness, is infrequent at the Wigmore, mainly because the quality of the performers is usually such that one is more often compelled to stand up and cheer, and indeed much of this evening's music-making reached that kind of excellence.

Melanie Eskenazi


Seen&Heard is part of MusicWeb Webmaster: Len Mullenger

Return to: Seen&Heard Index  

Return to: Music on the Web