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Tetzlaff & Andsnes; Florestan Trio; Skovkus & Vladar


Beethoven violin sonata Op 30/1
Shostakovich violin sonata
Mozart violin sonata K 302
Grieg violin sonata No 3

In Op 30/1 this duo introduced its uninhibited, forceful manner of emphasising every contrast pointed by Beethoven for maximum effect. Piano lid wide open, of course, and no risk of covering each other with such different tibres, but within an acceptable scale; no one doubts that Beethoven would have endorsed Steinway if he heard one of today's monsters.

Shostakovich emerged under their hands larger than life - or death, it is an unrelievedly bleak violin sonata, officially premiered by Oistrakh and Richter in 1969. Elements of dodecaphony are introduced (a twelve-note theme, but framed by Bb chords) and the middle movement is an unamusing scherzo, driven in relentless fortissimo, Andsnes pushing his Steinway to its limits.   Mozart raises quesions of style, even though K 302 has a Mannheim crescendo relished by Tetzlaff and Andsnes, but the second movement had me thinking of period alternatives, with the especially promising beginning of the Podger/Cooper Mozart series (Channel Classics) in my inner ears. And Grieg's most popular of his three sonatas sounded a little hollow on re-acquaintance; perhaps the determination of players (and record companies) to top expectations means that it nwill become increasingly hard to recapture the excitement which Kreisler and Rachmaninoff brought to this (then) comparative rarity. Encores of minor Sibelius brought to an end a recital which we admired without capitulating so completely as when we last encountered them together at Wigmore Hall and on a related CD. 

FLORESTAN TRIO Wigmore Hall, 24 April 2005  

Saint-Saens 2nd piano trio
Judith Weir 2nd piano trio
Ravel piano trio

Normally selling out Wigmore Hall easily with canonic Beethoven/Schubert, the Florestans, on absolutely top form, had only about two/thirds seats occupied, albeit by an appreciative audience. In the long first movement of Saint-Saens' huge and under-rated five-movement 2nd piano trio, Susan Tomes found an ideal style to deal with her unremittingly continuous density of semiquaver figuration, without burdening the ears to hear every note (as can be wearisome with close-miking of this kind of music, offering instead a cushion to allow Anthony Marwood and Richard Lester to sing out without having to force their tone. The novel five-in-a-bar intermezzo (composed a year before Tchaikovsky's Pathetique ) was charming, the warm Andante melodious and affecting, the waltz undeserving of note-writer Gerald Larner's schoolmasterly reprobation, and the vigorous finale exhilarating.  

Untiring, instead of the expected interval to recoup her strength, Susan Tomes introduced Judith Weir's latest piano trio written for the Florestans, programmatic as is most of her music, and full of humour and surprises (why not have invited Susan to write the notes; in her great book about the chamber music life Beyond the Notes she has a lot to say about programming). And to finish, a gorgeous performance of the Ravel trio, precise in detail yet rich in colours; a unique masterwork which remains fresh how often heard. The Florestan Trio found a totally different palette for each composer; no encore, and a fully satisfying evening.

BO SKOVKUS & STEPHAN VLADAR at Wigmore Hall 25 April 2005

Peter Ruzicka:
Sechs Gesänge nach Fragmenten von Nietzsche
Benjamin Britten:
Songs and Proverbs of William Blake Op. 74
Robert Schumann:
Kernerlieder Op. 35

Too late to hear the first two of six Nietzsche settings by Peter Ruzicka, after grappling with the vagaries of London's transport (Jubilee Line closed again!) one was immediately gripped by the intensity of Bo Skovkus 's concentration and the power and conviction Stefan Vladar brought to the stark piano parts.
Skovkus has a steely edge in his voice which was ideal to convey the bleak messages of the Songs & Proverbs of William Blake, tellingly and economically realised in Britten's 1965 settings, premiered and famously recorded by the composer with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
I venture to suggest, heretically, that this was an even finer performance than those they gave in the late '60s. It was interesting to hear Britten's seven songs, with linking proverbs for continuity, soon after reviewing the Naxos CDs of William Bolcom's large scale setting of the whole Blake Book of Innocence and Experience from which Britten had made his selection.  

Recitals by baritones (Skovkus's voice tends towards the bass-baritone) are rarely light hearted occasions. Schumann's Liederreihe Op 35 to poems of Kerner, the last, and least often performed, from the miraculous outpouring in 1840, completed the programme, dealing with the usual topics of nature and unrequited love, darker because of the need to transpose the piano part down. A brief lyrical encore by a Danish composer (Skovkus describing himself as Denmark's cultural ambassador) and the recital ended early but with the Wigmore Hall's two-thirds empty audience of exploring connoisseur's having expressed unreserved appreciation of a great song recital.

Bo Skovkus now records for Naxos; perhaps they will encourage Skovkus & Stefan Vladar, an active conductor as well as a fine duo recitalist, to record some of this repertoire? Skovkus's second recording of Don Giovanni is highly recommendable, quite apart from its modest pricing [Naxos 8.660 080-82]

© Peter Grahame Woolf