hardly expected such a full audience for a
viola and piano recital – but then again,
when the violist is Yuri Bashmet, perhaps
this is less surprising. Only a couple of
nights ago the same stage hosted a remarkable
Twilight of the Gods: now, starting
with a piece for solo viola, Bashmet could
hardly have provided a greater contrast.
the first piece on the programme was Bach’s
Cello Suite in G, BWV1007, arranged for the
viola by Fritz Spindler (1817-1905). Spindler
is credited in the programme as having been
‘chamber musician with the Leipzig Gewandhaus
Orchestra’. An attentive audience fell under
Bashmet’s spell (interestingly he used music
throughout the recital). By imparting an almost
disembodied feel to the Prelude and by emphasising
higher voices by the subtlest of tenuti
rather than by rougher accents, Bashmet created
an atmosphere of suspended disquiet, counterbalanced
by the characterful ‘Allemande’ (the programme
notes refer to this ‘Allemande’ as robust
- not here!). If in the ‘Courante’ Bashmet’s
higher register belied little of the strain
that can sometimes characterise his chosen
instrument, it was perhaps the ‘Sarabande’
that lay at the very heart of Bashmet’s reading.
His delicate half-voice meant that the almost
gypsy slant of Menuet I acted in perfect contrast
(itself setting off the melancholic Menuet
II). Only the brief concluding Gigue seemed
Viola Sonata No. 2 in E flat, Op. 120 is,
of course, the Clarinet Sonata Op. 120 No.
2 of 1894. The case for the viola as soloist
is that this is Brahms’ own version. Now joined
by the veteran pianist Mikhail Muntial, this
was a performance of the very highest integrity
(the pair have recorded the two sonatas on
RCA 09026 63293-2). Both players caught the
wistful, autumnal quality of the Allegro amabile
– Muntian’s warm sound was perfectly appropriate.
The affectionate outpouring of the first movement
was a true meeting of equals. Muntian shaded
even the most simple figures with beauty and
grace; Bashmet was hardly less impressive,
the occasional tuning slip aside.
piano writing in the ensuing Allegro appassionato
is on the imposing level of one of his solo
piano sonatas, and Muntian fully rose to the
challenge, and subsequently invoked an almost
organ-like sonority in the Trio. Bashmet’s
double-stopping was jaw-droppingly good, the
two resultant voices completely independent
of one another. But it was the titanic, rich
piano writing and its realisation that lingers
most in the memory.
refused to be rushed in the Andante con moto
of the finale. What was perhaps most impressive
was the presentation of the first variation,
here amounting to a deconstruction of the
theme, while the remaining variations then
acted as some sort of search for a recomposition.
There was almost telepathic communication
between the two players. Follow that …
they did. Shotakovich’s Viola Sonata, Op.
147 is that composer’s last work (he was correcting
proofs from his hospital bed just days before
he died). Again, Bashmet and Muntian have
recorded this (RCA 09026 61273-2, coupled
with Sonatas by Glinka and Roslavets). Bashmet
has also recorded the Shostakovich with Richter
The intensity of late-period Shostakovich
hangs over the entire piece. It was correct,
then, that Bashmet waited for complete silence
before they began. When Bashmet entered, it
was with a plangent line, on which he added
very little vibrato. This is a bare, desolate
and ultimately disquietening world. The sparser
moments carried Webernian import and concentration.
A Shostakovichian pointillism hung over a
remarkable passage of disjunct single-line
piano against Bashmet’s pizzicato. There was
a manic desperation to the middle section
of the first movement.
lovely that Muntian could play the Scherzo
with a deliberate clumsiness, all part of
the prevailing grotesquerie of this movement.
References to street tunes were transformed
into an horrific dance. Hardly surprising,
then, that any harmonic arrival points on
anything resembling a major triad became strangely
disturbing in their dark decontextualisation.
for a late Shostakovich piece to end with
an Adagio. Bashmet’s warm soliloquy was tremendously
elegiac; Muntian’s piano dark and ominous.
The astounding empathy enjoyed by these two
musicians was evident at every point (they
can dimunuendo exactly together, grading the
speed of the volume loss perfectly). The distinctly
valedictory aura of the close (how marvellous
was Bashmet’s bow control here) left the audience
stunned. It was surely absolutely correct
that there should be no encore. To do so would
have been sacrilege.