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Barrière, Ravel, Saint–Saëns and Fauré: Razumovsky Ensemble (Tine Thing Helseth (trumpet), Philippe Graffin, Alina Pogostkina, Elisabeth Dingstad (violins), Ida Bryhn (viola), Oleg Kogan, Andreas Brantelid (cellos), Ha–Young Jung (double bass), Claire Désert (piano)), Wigmore Hall, London, 28.4.2009 (BBr)

Jean Barrière: Sonata in G for two cellos
Ravel: Sonata for violin and cello (1920/1922)
Saint–Saëns: Septet in E flat, op.65 (1880)
Fauré: Piano Quartet No.2 in G minor, op.45 (1886)

Occasionally one attends a concert where everything is just right – the music, the performers, the hall, the ambiance, the attentive audience – and tonight was one of those nights.

“Established to provide musical excellence and develop exceptional musical talent” boasts the Razumovsky website’s home page, and it’s no hollow promise -  the young musicians at work tonight displayed the very highest degree of excellence. The opening bars of
Barrière’s Sonata set the standard as Kogan and Brantelid wove their beautiful lines and sung with a mellow and, dare I say it, romantic voice. There were moments when the sound of them playing in thirds reminded me of the great Schubert Quintet in C, and then again their counterpoint brought thoughts of Bach, and even though this isn’t the most original of compositions,  it spoke to us in an affecting way and the players cherished every minute of it. And that was the hallmark of tonight’s music making, there was a real feeling of the performers relishing every note they played.

However, relishing every note isn’t what one would immediately think about with regard to Ravel’s thorny Sonata for violin and cello. Although a mere 20 or so minutes in duration this is a difficult piece to listen to for its language is austere and the two single lines seem to be going their own ways, seldom coming together or making any real melodic or harmonic sense. Of course, repeated hearings will dispel this idea but as far as I know it is  seldom performed in public -  altho0ugh has been recorded - so our chances of getting to grips with it are few and far between. Graffin and Kogan seemed to have the right idea for their interpretation ; treat every phrase as a melody, throw caution to the wind in the wilder moments (and there are some very wild moments indeed in this work)  and give it all you’ve got. Thus I could hear why the Violin Sonata opens in the way it does, and why that opening phrase is written in that particular manner. Suddenly I could hear this piece not as a cul–de–sac in Ravel’s compositional progress but as a new beginning. The performance was a revelation in both my understanding of the work and in the quality of the interpretation and playing.

I am so exhilarated by his concert that it’s difficult not to gush, such is my enthusiasm. You couldn’t have had a bigger contrast with the Ravel than Saint–Saëns’s delightful, and very playful, Septet, written for the unusual combination of piano quintet, double bass and trumpet! Written for a society actually called La Trompette,  Saint–Saëns created a baroque suite in his own voice and it is a delicious concoction.

Helseth, Pogostkina, Dingstad, Bryhn, Brantelid, Jung and the admirable Claire Désert (whom I have heard before and whose performances have always been impressed me) played the piece straight faced,  thus making the whimsy more delightful.   This is not a funny piece, it is whimsical and too many people assume that because Saint–Saëns wrote Carnival of the Animals he always wrote funny (ie humorous) music. Tine Thing Helseth is a superb trumpeter, who was awarded 2nd Prize in the Eurovision Young Musicians finale in Vienna in 2006. I heard her a couple of weeks ago, on Norwegian Radio, giving a stunning performance of the Haydn Concerto with the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra and was very impressed. Tonight we heard her having a good time in music which she ensured brought a smile to the face. Her colleagues were no less impressive, but this work was Helseth’s own and she made the most of it.

After the interval we had Fauré’s 2nd Piano Quartet – a more passionate, turbulent and romantic work than the first and one which tugs at the emotions. Graffin, Bryhn, Kogan and Désert gave a performance of luminous beauty and great intimacy. This was chamber music playing par excellence, and their superb performance was made even better by the excellent sound of the Wigmore Hall. This is how we should hear chamber music.

Did the Razumovsky Ensemble deliver “musical excellence” by using “exceptional musical talent”? Without a doubt it did,  and long may it continue to do so.

Bob Briggs

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