Live Classics devotion to the art of Oleg Kagan continues.
There are now at least twenty-three volumes and this is number fifteen,
a solidly romantic trio of works at or near the heart of Kagans nineteenth
century repertoire. For all that we may remember him, since his untimely
death from cancer in 1990, as a questing explorer of the twentieth century
literature he was as convincing in much of the Classical and Romantic
repertoire. Admirer of Kagan as I am I'm not entirely convinced that
the adulatory nature of this extensive series is always to his advantage.
The rather flimsy booklet notes speak of his "precision of a laser
beam" - a rather formulaic and meaningless kind of critical judgment
when there are certainly worthwhile things to be said about his playing,
pro and contra.
The Mendelssohn Concerto dates from 1983 and was taped
in Leipzig with Masur conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra. There is
some unusually aggressive passagework in the opening movement and from
10.35 some emphatic, rather disruptive, playing. Elsewhere one can certainly
admire the range of tone colours in the Andante and some expressive
heightening but also note his rather fast and tensile vibrato and in
the more genial moments of the concerto it can be a liability. There
is a little untidiness in the finale but Masur gives a marvellous life
to the middle voices and gets them really to play out, enriching the
string textures as he does so. Though the finale is certainly not hurried
its attractively musical playing. He is joined by his wife, the cellist
Natalia Gutman, for a Moscow performance of the Brahms Double Concerto.
Conductor Arnold Katz begins the first movement at a deliberate and
rather obdurate tempo, in a glassy sounding aural spectrum, an element
of dour and forbidding greyness threatening to sabotage the work. Gutmans
entry is immediately expressive and when joined by Kagan they really
make something of Brahms passagework in the first movement, alive to
its potential both melodically and rhythmically. The percussion is somewhat
clattery here; spatially disjunctive too in the perspective, and at
one point some there is some throbbing playing from the string players
that will not be to all tastes. Nevertheless there is a palpable sense
of intimacy in the slow movement and an intriguing view of the finale
that stresses the angularities and unsettledness of Brahms writing
- a welcomingly intelligent approach. In the Schubert Kagan has to contend
with something of a scrappy orchestra and his fast vibrato doesnt always
mine the lyrical potential of the work. A mixed bag for me but a provocative
one in the best sense.