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Tchaikovsky & Shostakovich Vadim Repin (violin), LSO/Mstislav Rostropovich, Barbican Hall, London, July 8th, 2004 (CC)


Sponsored by Toshiba (who feature an intriguing ad in the programme for a robot called ‘ApriAlpha’, so hide your vacuum cleaners, roboto-san cometh), this was a high-profile event. A high-profile soloist, too - Siberian violinist Vadim Repin featured in Tchaikovsky’s lovely Violin Concerto.


A live broadcast on Radio 3, the sheer number of microphones hinted that maybe there were two sets of Tonmeisters at work, and at least part of the concert may end up in the LSO Live series (the symphony was recorded for LSO Live, ed).


Playing the same concerto at the RFH in 2002, Repin did not impress MusicWeb’s own AR; yet, Repin’s Shostakovich Second the next year (that I reported on) was an impressive traversal. A demure player to watch, his stance and movement belie the passion of his playing (in the finale he sounded as if he was enjoying himself, but it certainly did not look like it). His technique in harmonics is impeccable, and he has as throaty and burnished a G-string as any. The initial melody of the slow movement was exquisitely shaded (including a perfect trill). And yet it was the orchestra’s response to Rostropovich’s superbly sensitive accompaniment that registered time after time. Slava inspired the orchestral soloists (particularly the wind in the slow movement) to great heights and made us more aware than usual of Tchaikovsky’s sometimes daringly spare scoring. Perhaps the cadenza and the passage immediately after summed things up: one sat agape at Repin’s pyrotechnics and overall command; yet when the flute entered, magically, thereafter, one moved from Repin’s world back to Tchaikovsky’s. Display suits the finale (magnificent articulation) and it was here that Repin found most gusto. Again it was Rostropovich providing enlightenment, making the music side-glance towards the ballet stage at times.


This was probably the loudest Shostakovich Fifth I have ever heard. Climaxes really did bite (or hurt, depending upon one’s hearing’s sensitivity); the first movement’s major climax was crushing. Orchestrational effects made their point strongly - unison horn pedal notes against tramping low piano were all part of an anger that surfaced in the more obviously militaristic march passages.


The second movement asked a few questions, though. The very, very legato phrasing of the slurred opening raised eyebrows, as did the somewhat mannered slowing for the 4/4 insertions. Gordon Nikolitch’s solo violin contributions raised the movement, though, and Slava’s dovetailing of flute trills and pizzicato violins was spot-on. Exquisite balancing of back-desk strings was a notable factor in establishing the tone of the slow movement, while Rostropovich’s structural view was faultless. The flute and harp duet was gorgeous, as were the oboe solos.


Interestingly, the finale, manic and resolute by turns, launched by a wonderful accelerando, was not empty bombast. Here was a multitude of emotions crowned by resplendent brass. But of course it is Shostakovich himself who ask questions in the scoring and in the emphatic (mindless?) repetitions towards the close. Perhaps it was the friction of an orchestra playing as if it meant every note against a score that palpably doesn’t that Rostropovich was after? The close remained unsettling, certainly.


Not a life-changing experience, then. Rostropovich has come up with the goods at the Barbican more convincingly in this repertoire (explicitly, in Shostakovich’s Eleventh on LSO Live, a MusicWeb recording of the Month.)


Colin Clarke


Further Listening


Tchaikovsky: Repin; LSO/Krivine Erato 4509 98537-2 (c/w Sibelius)


Shostakovich: Concertgebouw/Haitink (one of only two Haitink recordings - in any repertoire - I recommend). Decca Ovation 425 066-2 (mid price, c/w Symphony No. 9).





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