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Ruth Palmer & Maxim Rysanov

Rysanov's romantic viola in recital & on CD, and Ruth Palmer's Shostakovich debut CD

 maxim RYSANOV viola

 evelyn CHANG piano

Johannes Brahms  Sonatensatz - EA.E. Sonata, Scherzo (arr. Rysano] Viola Sonata in D minor

George Enescu Concert Piece

Frank Bridge Pensiero & Allegro appassionato

Cesar Franck Violin Sonata in A major (arr. Rysanov)

Dobrinka Tabakova Whispered Lullaby


Shostakovich 1st Violin Concerto & Violin Sonata

My rival has arrived! (Yuri Bashmet) - - Maxim Rysanov is re-defining the art of viola playing for a new generation - - Maxim Rysanov is undoubtedly one of the world’s best and most charismatic viola players.

Music criticism is finally subjective, as readers must ever remind themselves, and trust their own ears and eyes.

Occasionally, when overwhelmed with hype, one finds oneself feeling like "the only soldier in step".

At Maxim Rysanov's launch recital (Wigmore Hall, 28 May 2007) we found his playing of a determinedly romantic selection with his pianist Evelyn Chang decidedly cool and detached.

His intonation was good, technique secure, but emotional communication, as heard from the regular critics' seats at the back of Wigmore Hall, singularly lacking. And clearly my raising any doubts was not welcomed by his agent, retailed also to the record company representative who assured me that further forward it sounded very different and that "Maxim is one of the great musicians of his generation".

His debut CD of essentially the same programme [Avie AV 2111], listened to attentively the following week, did nothing to change our feelings. It is accomplished, efficient playing, but very much a studio performance with any blemishes there might have been (probably but few) carefully edited out. The piano playing is likewise efficient, but without any sense of two artists interacting or striking sparks from each other. I have rarely been so unmoved in Franck's violin sonata (arr. Maxim Rysanov) as by Rysanov and Chang.

Some of the other repertoire is, admittedly, not greatly to our taste. The Brahms violin Sonatensatz (arr. Rysanov) is an uningratiating piece and Glinka's viola sonata long outstays its welcome. His Concert Piece doesn't find Enescu at his original best, and a novelty by Tabakova was unmemorable.

Luckily, readers are well positioned to decide for themselves. Rysanov has an impressive CV as violist and conductor, and an imposing website. One would prefer to have seen the Bashmet quote in context - a cautionary reminder; I once reviewed an antipathetic work as "staggering, over-the-top, 'beautiful music' with a vengeance!" My put-down was taken as a compliment and to this day it figures proudly on that composer's website... *

Debut CDs come in all guises, ranging from simple presentations of advanced students' repertoires and competence, put down (necessarily inexpensively) as markers of progress, to strongly promoted launches of new artists by record companies.

Of the latter ilk an extreme example is violinist Ruth Palmer's debut in Shostakovich's 1st Concerto and his late Sonata [Quartz QTZ2045]. Taking a rare initiative, and ultimately supported by a long list of donors, this is as lavish, personal and auspicious a pair of discs as you could have.

Ruth Palmer, a PLG Young Artist in 2004, had arranged for the Philharmonia to be specially hired in March 2006 for two days sessions at Henry Wood Hall. Last month she went on to win the Young Classical Brit award for this quite extraordinary recording. My illustration at the top of the page is taken from a Worcester Concert Club afternoon recital with Alexei Grybuk, where she included the Shostakovich sonata, later recorded for the CD in West Sussex, May 2006. Lucky Worcester!

It is presented with full information and supplemented with a fine bonus-DVD of a BBC documentary chronicling her visit to St Petersburg in search of Shostakovich. It includes valuable footage from lessons with her RCM teacher Dr Felix Andrievsky, and interviews with conductor Benjamin Wallfisch and Shostakovich experts. Perhaps we are entering a time when many more CDs will have supporting filmed material; I hope so.

I found both works more involving than for a long time. Athough their styles are very different, Palmer's sustained line and intensity in the concerto, one of the greatest and most demanding in the repertoire, brought back memories of hearing one of the original performances by Oistrakh, in its first broadcast on the BBC Third Programme. Palmer explains that she felt bound to adhere to tempi etc as prescribed in the score, rather than follow the extreme deviations in some of the early interpretations.

See the record company's make-over, at http://www.ruthpalmer.com/cd.html, plus audio and video samples to help you decide whether to invest.

I have preferred to reprint more natural photos of a youthful artist of unbelievable maturity now, only a few years after I wrote of Ruth as one of John Woolf's PLG Young Artists "who can seem a little overawed and do not quite confirm expectations"!

At that same PLGYA week in 2004, I praised highly Ryzanov's pianist Evelyn Chang and scarcely noticed Ruth's partner Tanya Gabrielian ! - swings and roundabouts...

I am eager to hear Ruth Palmer in recital again, hopefully with her excellent pianist partner Alexei Grybuk.

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. 29 June 2007 In fairness, I have to report today's press release: Maxim Rysanov has been named a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist from September 2007 for two years and his debut recital disc with the pianist Evelyn Chang was recently awarded the Gramphone Editor’s Choice accolade.

P.P.S Another opinion of Ryzanov: Maxim Rysanov’s viola sings expressively; the problem lies in what it sings, especially Giya Kancheli’s Styx – 35 minutes of drift and clamour masquerading as profundity. There’s more meat to Tavener’s The Myrrh-Bearer, likewise accompanied by Latvian voices and percussion, though its cumulative power is intermittent. (Oynx) [Geoff Brown in The Times)

See also: http://music.guardian.co.uk/classical/story/0,,2071224,00.html and http://www.answers.com/topic/ruth-palmer

* That composer is very successful; hear some of her music on YouTube, with a rural video by New York video artist Dmitriy Khavin, "based on her beautiful Pennyroyal Swale"

Photos: Maxim Ryzanov by Bruce Fleming; Ruth Palmer (top) www.worcserenade.co.uk/ images/ruth_palmer.jpg