Shostakovich, Mozart and Handel
After a good night’s sleep, a fruit breakfast, and a killer double espresso, I spent most of Sunday ambling back and forth between my hotel and the Szivárvány Music Hall.
Shostakovich’s bleak and bare-bones Viola Sonata (his final work) may not first choice morning listening, yet violist Gilad Karni and pianist Yury Martinov projected the music’s sparse textures and austere long lines with riveting sensitivity and concentration. The same could be said about the audience reaction.
In Mozart’s G Minor Quintet K 516 I was fascinated by the stylistic contrast between first violinist Alina Ibragimova and her colleagues. Period performance obviously informs Ibragimova extremely spare vibrato and tendency to speed solo passages ahead, whereas everyone else plays more strictly on the beat. However, to her credit, Ibragimova melds with rather than pulls focus from the ensemble, and, as a result, the composer’s subtle rhythmic displacements and harmonic surprises truly hit home. To precede a work of this scope with Rachmaninov’s Vocalise is a bizarre programming option. Nevertheless, Dóra Kokas’s elegantly phrased performance was a joy, supported by young pianist Benjámin Perényi’s sturdy, somewhat restrained accompaniment.
However, Sunday belonged to pianist Peter Frankl. At 75, his keen collaborative radar, tonal capabilities, effortless finger power and sheer stamina function at full, youthful capacity. In Brahms G Minor Quartet he joyfully tossed off the wild finale’s giddy syncopations and scintillating, concerto-like passagework, and built the Franck Violin Sonata’s massive keyboard textures from the bottom up, enveloping the big tunes with more colours than I imagined could be coaxed from a most recalcitrant Steinway. Alfred Cortot’s old Franck Sonata recording with Jacques Thibaud came to mind.
On Monday morning, Frankl sparkled again in Dohnanyi’s voluptuous C Major Sextet Op 37, where violinist Barnabas Kelemen and violist Gilad Karni served up gobs of appropriately vulgar, high calorie vibrato. Handel’s Apollo e Daphne featured baritone Christopher Purves, whose sense of style and vivacious rhythmic sense brings the decorative arias and dramatic recitatives to vibrant life. Because Purves has the lion’s share of the singing, it would be all too easy to downplay soprano Ruby Hughes’ supple technique and superb vocal acting.
The evening concert took place at the Reformed Church in Kossuth Lajos Street. While the venue boasts splendid acoustics, you’ll only be comfortable if you can land a seat near an open exit door and a passing breeze. Two dynamic duos remained in my memory after the rather lengthy programme ended. Jean-Baptisete Barriére’s G Major sonata for two cellos provided florid fuel for Nicolas Alstaedt and Jonathan Cohen to show off without the least effort. Then Ms Hughes and Ms Ibragimova returned to playfully lock horns and strut their period practice prowess, transforming JC Bach’s “Mein Freund ist Mein” from a harmonically impoverished, deadly dull concert aria into a minor masterpiece. Fortunately Bach Senior’s First Brandenburg Concerto turned up in the closing spot, and featured bracing tempi, great ensemble balances, and charismatic soloists.
Composer, pianist, concert presenter and Gramophone contributor Jed Distler looks back, present and forward about the piano in our lives, and the lives of the piano.