Great recitals are often, though not always, married
to great musical partnerships. Orkis and Mutter, Markham and Norman
and, in a generation past, Richter and Oistrakh and Moore and Fischer-Dieskau
are, or were, outstanding musical partnerships where no one artist had
a hegemony over the over. I list the pianist first in every case because
so often in recital the pianist can be a dominating presence (as a recent
Wigmore Hall recital given by Ilya Gringolts and Boris Berezovsky showed).
In none of the above cases is that true, and in Apekisheva’s and Liebeck’s
recital at the Purcell Room it was refreshing to find a young pair of
outstanding musicians following in the footsteps of these great artists;
theirs was a partnership in every sense of the word.
However, if this was by no means
a faultless recital it reached a very high level of artistry and inspiration,
belying both the age and relative concert experience of both musicians.
An incandescent account of Saint-Saëns’ Sonata No.1 in D minor
closed the recital but it had begun much less well with Tartini’s ‘Devil
Trill Sonata’. Using Kreisler’s arrangement of the work Liebeck took
some time to settle, his pace not always being ideally poised between
the work’s rhetoric and panache. Yet, his view of the piece is highly
romantic – and he produced a wide-bodied sound – with splendid tonal
weight given to the G-string – that was both refined and expressive.
Some of the Largo’s ‘infernal siciliana’ wasn’t quite defined fully
enough and occasionally the demonic ambivalence of the Allegro was underplayed.
The fiendish trills of the Cadenza were waspish even if his double-stopping
was less secure than it might have been.
Peter Fribbins’ ‘…that
which echoes in eternity’ proved to
be the turning point in this recital. Powerful and turbulent in equal
measure, it was often a performance given huge dynamic range, and yet
every note remained audible throughout. Apekisheva’s almost destructive
clusters at the low end of the keyboard were superbly articulated, and
what beautifully controlled pedalling this pianist has, but equally
memorable was the precision of Liebeck’s sustained high notes on the
E-string, as breathless as a whisper, yet so utterly even in tone. Fribbin’s
piece takes as its inspiration Canto VI from Dante’s Inferno
and how wonderfully both musicians conveyed its lugubrious and unsettling
Brahms’ D minor sonata ended the
first half and for the first time one was able to appreciate how remarkable
Liebeck is as a violinist. Technically, he was superb but what was extraordinary
was how far his sound and intonation changed to reflect the innate lyricism
and introspection of this work; the big sound he had produced in the
Tartini was here melded into something aristocratic and subtle. If the
full-blooded playing owed something to a wider than usual vibrato his
control of it remained impeccable. In many ways – especially with the
sovereign control over the almost gilded sound he produced - this was
as close to a Milstein performance of the work as one is likely to hear
James Francis Brown’s Violin Sonata
shares with the Fribbins a seductive, if hardly challenging, tonality.
The composer originally intended the piece to be a group of three independent
movements and what he had written for the middle section was removed
before the work’s premiere at the 2002 Cheltenham Festival. Ironically,
it is the completed work’s central Presto (which received its premiere
at this recital) which is the most striking part of the sonata combining
elements of barely suppressed violence within a broader spatial pulse.
It contrasts radically with the outer movements, and beautifully played
though they were, what remains memorable is the energetic virtuosity
of the Presto – especially when so beguilingly played as it was here.
Quite why Saint-Saëns superb
Violin Sonata No.1 is so neglected is a puzzle. Liebeck and Apekisheva
gave as compelling a performance of it as I have heard, in either concert
or on record. Liebeck produced the warmest of tones for the Adagio,
splintered with a meditative radiance that trod carefully between the
parameters of the intense and the bathetic. When it came to the Allegro
moderato and Allegro molto (the composer, unusually, welds the four
movements into two parts) both pianist and violinist ricocheted octaves
through a ball-game of exhilarating virtuosity. The moto perpetuo finale
of the sonata was delivered with breathtaking control and panache to
end a performance of pure, spontaneous musicianship.
Liebeck is undoubtedly a major
talent (although he has yet to graduate from the RCM), and with Apekisheva,
they combine to form an extremely fine partnership where the rapport
is absolute. I expect them to become a great one. This recital would
have shamed many by bigger names unwilling to risk the inclusion of
new works with established repertoire. As it was, these two musicians
brought it off with consummate artistry.