wed 29/06/2022

Gidon Kremer 75th Birthday Concert, Wigmore Hall review - poignant moments focused on Ukraine | reviews, news & interviews

Gidon Kremer 75th Birthday Concert, Wigmore Hall review - poignant moments focused on Ukraine

Gidon Kremer 75th Birthday Concert, Wigmore Hall review - poignant moments focused on Ukraine

Kremer called this 'a celebration not of myself, but of music which is dear to me'

Georgijs Osokins, Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė and Gidon KremerAccentus Records / Bartek Barczyk

There are moments when nothing can  – or should – stand in the way of the sheer expressive and communicative power of music. Only a few days ago, Gidon Kremer had changed the programme for his 75th birthday concert at Wigmore Hall, to include a short section of pieces by two Ukrainian composers.

“The whole world is focused on the dramatic events in Ukraine,” said Kremer.

His performance of the first of the two pieces, a four-minute Requiem for solo violin by Igor Loboda, could not have been more deeply soulful. The piece is based on a folksong about the river Dnieper, was written in 2014 for Lisa Batiashvili, and is dedicated to the memory of the victims of the conflict in which Russia annexed Crimea  – or as Kremer explained, “to the endless suffering of the Ukrainian people.” It has poignant motifs: a phrase which ends like a tear welling in the eye, another, repeated several times, where the idea ends so suddenly, you wonder why or how it isn’t there any more. Kremer played sustained, perfectly executed double stops, and briefly, unusually, yet unforgettably, that weightily communicative Oistrakh-like sound he often has a tendency to avoid. Moments like that stay in the mind.

The second piece for trio of violin, cello and piano, being given its world premiere, was the equally short Amapola by Victoria Polevá. Kremer explained he had received it “as a present” just a few days ago. Polevá is a composer who since the 1990s has worked with religious texts and motifs, and has clearly been inspired in her work by composers such as Arvo Pärt. Kremer, as is his way, has been an advocate and supporter of Polevá’s work, a fine example of which is the intense, concentrated, superb "Simurgh-quintet" for 2 violins, viola, violoncello and piano from 2000. “Amapola” hints at the sounds of Ukrainian church modes and tolling bells, and also left a strong impression in its span of just a few minutes.

With Kremer (photo of the concert above courtesy of Wigmore Hall), it is the music which comes first. His way with building programmes has always been to offer unexpected contrasts, to shy away from popular works, and this programme was a fine example. As Kremer explained in an interview with our TAD colleague Richard Bratby “I consider my birthday to be a celebration not of myself, but of music which is dear to me along with my dear colleagues and partners...”

The colleagues here, both strongly associated with Kremer’s work with Kremerata Baltica, are very fine musicians: Lithuanian cellist Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė and Latvian pianist Georgijs Osokins. This trio made an album on Accentus in 2020 of Chopin and of the Beethoven Triple Concerto, arranged for piano trio by Carl Reinecke.

Both the cellist and the pianist really came into their own in the final work, the second of Rachmaninov’s Trios Élégiaques. It was wonderful to hear the tonal beauty and glorious phrasing in Dirvanauskaitė’s playing, in evidence right from the start. This piece also brought to the fore Osokins’ fluent and persuasive handling of the ebb and flow in Rachmaninov’s long movements and huge structures. He made everything feel completely natural.

I found myself intrigued, impressed and challenged, rather than totally persuaded, by some of the decisions in the Schumann performances in the first half. The first movement of the G minor piano trio is marked “Bewegt, doch nicht zu rasch” (animated but not too fast). Such an instruction is clearly to be interpreted subjectively (how fast is too fast at this astonishing level of musicanship?!), but here we had an interpretation aimed at accentuating the rhythmic instability rather than allowing a supportive conversation between the protagonists.

Another curious moment came in the closing pages of the “Finale” movement of the third, A minor Violin Sonata. It contains passages of unfettered virtuosity, which Kremer dispatches with ease. And yet, surely, there is a clear invitation to the soloist here to enjoy the moment, to build the intensity, and to arrive at the end in some kind of triumph. Recordings of this work by both Isabelle Faust and Christian Tetzlaff respond gamely to that invitation. Kremer has said  – with honesty, clarity and deep self-knowledge  – that he tends to be drawn to extroversion in others rather than being naturally inclined to it himself. And his way with those closing pages was to break them down into sections, almost to be a detached observer.

These are minor quibbles. Once the trio had indulged us with an arrangement for trio of Schubert’s “Du Bist die Ruh’” as the single encore, they received the standing ovation which they thoroughly deserved.

@sebscotney

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