January 12th 2017. A grim, cold January morning with snow threatened. As one trudged through Leicester and arrived at the Museum for the first 2017 concert in the Lunchtime Series only to find that, because of major building work, one needed an orienteering course just to get in, one had the occasional unworthy thought about whether it was all quite worth the effort. That was until the first note, after which such thoughts were completely banished.
Of course, one should not have had such thoughts in the first place. Anyone who has frequented the Festival and the Lunchtime Series over the years knows just how superb a violinist is Alexander Sitkovetsky . True, his partner Wu Qian, as far as I am aware, was new to the city, but it took very little time to discern that she was here not in some subsidiary accompanying role. This was a Duo in the real meaning of the word and of the very topmost quality.
Given the Arctic outside, De Falla’s Suite of Spanish Songs was a particularly happy choice with which to begin. It was a transcription of a vocal work which in the original immediately conjures up the unique sounds of the Spanish deep, sometimes guttural , mezzo voice . However, the violin stood in remarkably well for the singer. Sitkovetsky’s wonderfully rich tone and range of colour time and again took one right to the Iberian centre of these pulsating songs and the piano of course had no difficulty in conveying the dance rhythms with great vivacity. However, perhaps the most memorable song of all was Lullaby , the quietest, least demonstrative of the selection. This was a thing of wonder as the two artists ever so gently conveyed the love of a mother for her child. Here one felt the purity of violin and piano tone almost made the transcription superior to the original.
Then we moved onto the major work of the concert, Schumann’s Violin Sonata Op. 120, composed as the signs of the composer’s final breakdown were beginning to show. For me this has always been a slightly problematic work, particularly in the outer movements, which in the determination of the composer to be dramatic and weighty can in an ordinary performance begin to sound endlessly repetitive. Whilst replaying recently a much praised CD of the 1980’s by two artists recognised as amongst the very finest of their generation, I found that even then my uncertainties did not entirely vanish.
And yet in this performance that is exactly what did occur. One is aware that one should be very cautious of comparing any recording with a live experience. The latter has the potential to be so much more involving. Distrust those critics who in those circumstances adopt a superior analytic tone. However, I did think that I detected in this performance good reason why the sense of repetitiveness was absent. Particularly in the last movement, the players seemed to manage through a number of subtle variations of tempo and tone to make each re-introduction of material seem a slight departure from what had gone before. Hence the movement had throughout the dramatic impetus which Schumann had in mind.
As for the poignant slow movement in which the composer finds again the blithe lyricism so much at the centre of his genius, it was played in a manner that brought tears to the eyes. During those few moments I found myself wondering whether there existed a more touching testament to the human spirit. How did someone on the verge of permanent mental collapse find their way to creating music so utterly and heartrendingly lovely? That one had these thoughts was a tribute indeed to the quality of these two players.
Coming Events in January
Tuesday January 17th.7.30 p.m: The Philharmonia residency at DMH. The Venezuelan Conductor Domingo Hindoyanmakes his debut inLeicester, as does the violinist Michael Barenboim, son of Daniel. A programme of Wagner, Prokofiev and Beethoven.
Thursday January 26th. 1.00 p.m: Lunchtime Series at the Museum. The long awaited return to the city of cellist Natalie Clein. She will be playing two of Bach’s Cello Suites.